Monsoon prospects dim, govt readies response

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Monsoon clouds have entered India, but the precipitation during the four-month rainy season is likely to be 90 and 96 per cent of the long-term average, suggesting below-average rainfall.

In its second monsoon forecast released on Monday, India Meteorology Department (IMD) cut its long-range monsoon forecast to 93 per cent of the long-period average (LPA) from April’s forecast of 95 per cent.

IMD said it saw a higher probability of the El Nino event between June and September, which is known to cause droughts in India and the rest of South Asia.

The government has been preparing for subnormal monsoon this year, President Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament on Monday. “My government is alert about the possibility of a subnormal monsoon this year and contingency plans are being prepared,” he said.

The plan may involve providing diesel at subsidised rates to farmers in areas with deficient rainfall and rescheduling farmers’ loans with lower interest rates.

A proposed 10 per cent increase in urea price, which takes place annually, may also be delayed.

The onset of the monsoon was delayed this year with rains reaching Kerala on June 6, five days behind the normal date of June 1. The progress has since been negligible in Kerala and west coast, but favourable in north-east India.

“The southwest monsoon this year is likely to be below normal at 90-96 per cent of the long-term average,” D Sivananda Pai, India’s chief monsoon forecaster at IMD, told Financial Chronicle.

Rainfall between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the 50-year average of 89 cm in the entire four-month season is considered average or normal. Anything between 90 per cent and 96 per cent is considered below normal.

An IMD statement on Monday said the seasonal rainfall was likely to be 85 per cent of LPA over north-west India, 94 per cent over central India, 93 per cent over the south Peninsula and 99 per cent over Northeast India, all with a model error of plus or minus 8 per cent.

Pai said quantitatively, the season’s rainfall for the country as a whole was expected to be 93 per cent of the LPA with a model error of plus or minus 4 per cent. He expects July rainfall to be at 93 per cent of LPA, which would increase to 96 per cent in August. “The current trend indicates June rainfall will be less than normal,” he said.

“The probability of El Nino has risen to 70 per cent from 60 per cent earlier, which prompted IMD to cut its long-range forecast to 93 per cent,” said Prerna Sharma, an analyst at Emkay Commotrade.

Emkay’s Sharma said with 55 per cent of India’s kharif crop area being rain-fed, the performance of the agriculture sector would be strongly correlated with quantity and temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall.

“Poor monsoon may potentially cause a spike in food prices, fuelling inflation. If that happens, India may need to import more of oil complex and pulses than its usual requirements,” Sharma said.

Last year, India registered a record fourth straight year of normal monsoon, which covered the entire country within a month. Pai said the last time monsoon had covered the entire country in the shortest time was in 1961, when rains had touched the eastern-most tip by June 21.

Pai claimed there was no impact of El Nino on Indian monsoon right now, as it is still in a neutral condition. In its first monsoon forecast in April, IMD had projected below-average rainfall for the year

“There is no need to panic,” said PK Joshi, director (South Asia) at International Food Policy Research Institute. He said the impact of the monsoon was to be seen in its spatial and temporal distribution across the Kharif crop-growing regions.

The country was gearing up with climate-smart agriculture to increase yield and income of farmers, and reduce climate risk. “The strategy that the government is trying to put in place with technology intervention will empower farmers to respond with short-duration crops, which are more drought-resistant,” Joshi said.

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