Summer sowing tumbled nearly 48% and seasonal monsoon showers trailed the benchmark average by 42% until Friday, compounding worries of an inflation-wary government that is scrambling to deal with any drought-like situation this year. Water reservoir levels — which has remained relatively high mainly due to plentiful showers last year — improved only slightly from a week before, showed data from the Central Water Commission.
Sowing has been affected due to the monsoon’s arrival being delayed by six days from the ideal date of June , as well as its sluggish progress so far. In contrast, rainfall until June 26 last year was 37% higher than the long-period average (LPA) of 89 centimetres, which also served to widen the gap between sowing in 2013-14 and this year.
The situation so far this season, however, is better than the same period in 2009 when the country faced the worst drought in 37 years as rainfall was 54% lower than the LPA.
Although it is certain the rain deficit could seriously impact the country’s foodgrain output this year, it is too early to say by how much. India’s grain output hit a record 264 million tonnes in the 2013-14 crop year; the farm GDP growth in the corresponding fiscal year was 4.7%, robust by the sector’s standards.
“Monsoon revival is likely over many parts of east, adjoining central and north peninsula India from July 6 onwards when above-normal rainfall activity is expected. Normal to above-normal rainfall activity is expected over northeastern states and West Bengal and Sikkim on many days,” the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Friday. “The west coast is also likely to experience above-normal rainfall activity from the beginning of July onwards,” it said. However, rainfall may remain below normal over the western parts of the country for some more time, it added. The IMD defines normal monsoon showers at 96-104% of the LPA and deficient rainfall at below 90% of the LPA.
The planting of paddy, one of the most water-intensive crops, dropped 44% to 21.91 lakh hectares until Friday, compared with 39.12 hectares as of June 28 last year. Oilseed sowing has been affected drastically as the area under the crop declined sharply by 92% until Friday from a year earlier. The sowing of coarse cereal has dropped 33.4%, pulses 59.1%, cane 7.4% and cotton almost 48%. The country imports more than half of its edible oil and one-fifth of its pulses requirements annually and any drop in these commodities has the potential to stoke imported inflation.
Summer crops are usually sown with the arrival of monsoon rains in June and harvested from mid-September. Northwestern India — the grain bowl region that is forecast to witness the maximum shortfall in showers, at a 15% deficiency, this year — has seen a 51% drop in rainfall from the LPA so far, widening the gap with the LPA from 46% until a week earlier.
Water storage levels across the country, which was 26% higher than the level a year ago until June 12, significantly narrowed the gap to just 2% as of June 26.
The IMD had forecast that monsoon rains this year would be 93% of the LPA, with a 33% probability of deficient monsoon rains and a 70% chance of a recurrence of El Nino, which had caused the worst drought in 37 years in 2009.
The stakes are high on the monsoon as over 60% of the country's farmland is rain-fed. The June-September monsoon season, which brings about 70% of annual rains, is crucial for summer-sown crops and also boosts groundwater reserves for winter planting.
Food inflation, which has hit an annual average of 12.16% over the last five years, touched 12.76% in the last fiscal, compared with 9.89% a year before. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday sought greater coordination between the Centre and states to deal with a possible drought and asked states to crack down hard on hoarders. Echoing the sentiment, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan also said some unscrupulous elements were jacking up prices of essential commodities citing a poor monsoon.