There is more to the summershowers than the romance of gently falling raindrops. The June-September rains provide relief from a sticky summer. Schools shut down. Families go on vacation. But the monsoon is more than just a cool respite: it’s the life-blood of India’s economy. It’s a long expedition nature undertakes each year.
The early-summer breeze in the southern Pacific streams northwards, preparing to travel more than 8,000 km to reach Asia in time picking up moisture on the way. If the Pacific winds are one essential ingredient of a perfect monsoon, the Indian summer is another.
In due course, the winds sweep the Indian landscape, with heat conditions just the right for ‘precipitation’ or rainfall to happen. During its four-month journey across the subcontinent, the monsoon hits Kerala in June, its first port of call in the Indian mainland. It then cuts off into two branches — one over the Bay of Bengal and the over the Arabian Sea, before typically covering the whole country within a month.
Scientists can now fairly determine the monsoon’s course and quality. The monsoon is said to be normal when rainfall is between 96%-104% of 89 centimetres, which is the 50-year average of rains during the season. Rainfall above 110% would mean surplus monsoon.
This year summer rains are likely to be normal, the Met department has forecast, brightening prospects of bumper crops and economic recovery, crucial for a government heading into a general election. Two-thirds of Indians depend on farm income and over 40% of our cropped area does not have any form of irrigation other than the rains.
Millions of farmers wait for the rains to begin summer sowing of major staples, such as rice, sugar, cotton and coarse cereals. Half of India’s farm output comes from summer crops dependent on the monsoon. For good farm output, the rains have to be not just robust but also evenly spread across states. The monsoon also replenishes 81 nationally monitored water reservoirs vital for drinking, power and irrigation.
Like cricket, agriculture is a glorious game of timing. Delayed rains can hit planting of key crops. Paddy saplings, for instance, first need to be grown in small nurseries for 21 days before being transplanted or laid out in watery fields.
Without timely rains, they will over-age. The country’s grain basket, Punjab and Haryana, have assured irrigation networks to fall back on. But 60% of Indian farming has to just rely on the monsoon. When rain-dependent farm output is robust, rural income and therefore spending on almost everything — television sets to gold — goes up.
This creates demand for manufactured goods, which, in turn, helps the general economy. A normal monsoon could, thus, well turn out to be perfect antidote for an economy that is trying to claw out of a decade-low slowdown.