NEW DELHI, JUN 24 (IANS): The government Wednesday said monsoon could be below normal this year, heightening fears of lower agricultural output and more deaths due to extended heat wave.
The second forecast of the India Meteorological Department put the rainfall at 93 percent of the average. “The southwest monsoon rainfall will likely be below normal between June to September,” Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan told reporters here.
“Current observations and forecasts suggest that monsoon will advance over most parts of the country except northwest India by June end. In northwest India, including Delhi, the monsoon will onset in first week of July,” Chavan said.
Not good news for states like Punjab and Haryana, which together account for over half the country’s annual food grain production, or Orissa, one of the major rice-growing states. “The delayed monsoon and heat wave can damage the paddy crop,” said Punjab’s agriculture department director B.S. Sidhu. “The lack of rains, heat wave and power crisis could pose a problem,” he said. Temperatures this month have hovered above 40 degrees Celsius in both Punjab and Haryana.
Orissa has about four million hectares under paddy cultivation, but over 62 percent of the cropped area is rain-fed, that is completely dependent on monsoon.
The monsoon normally arrives in the state by June 10. But save for some scattered rain in the last week of May, Orissa has been witnessing a dry spell. “We are advising farmers, particularly those who grow crops on non-irrigated and upland areas, to use short and medium duration paddy seeds,” Orissa’s agriculture and food production director Arabinda Kumar Padhee told IANS.
“Crops are going to be affected because there is no rain,” said Jagdish Pradhan, convener of a farmers’ organisation in the state.
“The meteorological office predicted early monsoon and believing them, farmers, especially in the western parts of the state, went in for early sowing,” he said. The long dry spell has now damaged seedlings, he added.
Uttar Pradesh, too is reeling under intense heat wave. The maximum temperature is hovering between 42-46 degrees Celsius in large swathes of the state.
According to the state’s agriculture department, nearly 3.44 lakh hectares were under cultivation by June 15 last year. However, this year, this area has been reduced to 2.53 lakh hectares. “Paddy crop will be the worst hit. In Uttar Pradesh and most parts of India, farmers depend on the rain-fed traditional method for transplanting paddy crops,” K.B. Trivedi, an agricultural scientist, told IANS. Water supply has dried up in Madhya Pradesh, where a bucket of water is being sold between Rs.2 to Rs.5 in several places, even though the government has introduced water rationing in 115 towns and cities.
People in Madhya Pradesh are taking their cue from the state government, which has been performing several rituals in the hope of invoking the skies to let up.
In some parts of the state, such as in Chhindwara and Dewas, people have performed marriages of frogs as it is believed this ritual helps bring heavy downpour. It obviously hasn’t helped till now.
In Andhra pradesh, sowing operations in the fertile Godavari delta, known as rice bowl of the state, have been hit by the delay in rains.
The water level in all major reservoirs has touched dead storage level and as a result, release of water into irrigation canals has been delayed.
The delay in rains has also affected electricity supply to farmers depending on wells for irrigation. They are not getting the promised seven hours of uninterrupted supply. The situation has worsened as the hydel generation has come down due to lack of inflows in reservoirs.
In Jharkhand, where the temperatures are at an all-time high, the heat wave has claimed 17 lives.
The maximum temperature at 46.2 degrees Celsius was recorded Tuesday in Deoghar district. In Ranchi, which was once the summer capital of undivided Bihar, the maximum temperature was 41.3 degrees Celsius.
Farmers, who have not been able to sow seeds in the absence of rains, are the worst-hit.
The current heat wave hasn’t even spared the hilly Himachal Pradesh and its capital Shimla, a tourist destination for those from the plains during the scorching summer months.
“The unusual rise in temperature and delay in monsoon is creating drought-like conditions in the low and mid-hills. The situation is likely to continue for some more days,” Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office in Shimla, told IANS.
The hottest day of the season was recorded Tuesday with the mercury touching 30.6 degrees Celsius in Shimla.
Singh said most of the districts had received deficient rainfall during the summer.
“With rains deficient by almost 53 percent this season, the delay in the arrival of the monsoon will trigger drought in the hills,” he warned.