Much though the meteorological department has been predicting a normal monsoon this year, the signs are ominous if one goes by present trends. Not only has the monsoon been delayed in much of India, it is deficient too in varying degrees. The monsoon rains are crucial for farm output and economic growth as about 55 per cent of the country’s arable land is rain-fed, and the farm sector accounts for about 15 per cent of a nearly $2-trillion economy. Already, the 24 per cent deficit in south-west monsoon has resulted in delayed planting of key kharif crops such as paddy, cotton, oilseeds, pulses and coarse cereals. According to Agriculture Ministry figures, the country received cumulative rainfall of 73.7 mm for the first three weeks of June against the normal 96.9 mm. The acreage under kharif crops other than sugarcane has declined. Planting of paddy, the water-intensive crop, is down by 4.41 lakh hectares for the first three weeks at 18.70 lakh hectares over the corresponding period last year. It is delayed in key states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha and Assam. Cotton sowing across the country at the start of the kharif season for 2012-13 has fallen too.
For the UPA government at the Centre which is trying hard to revive its fortunes with general elections less than two years away, a further escalation in food prices and a depressed agricultural growth would be a cause for considerable worry. Mercifully, though the monsoon has been deficient in the initial phase, the weather office has projected average rains in July and August, key months for planting and maturing of crops. The forecast for July rains this year is 98 per cent of the long period average, while the rainfall in August is forecast to be 96 per cent of the average. While this sounds reassuring, if the present trend of deficient rain continues, not only food prices and agriculture but also drinking water scarcity could plague the country. One can only keep one’s fingers crossed that this does not happen.