India's monsoon rainfall continues to be over 30% below average, since hitting Kerala on June 5, official data showed on Monday, heightening concerns over its shape during the crucial kharif or summer-sown season.
The all-India average rainfall on Monday, for instance, was about 2 mm although the normal is 4 mm, the Met's data showed.Rains have been largely patchy, barring the Konkan coast, Goa and the seven northeastern states. As on Monday, its coverage — or the northern limit — should have enveloped large parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, the rice bowls of West Bengal and northeastern tip of Bihar. The rain-bearing system, however, has been robustly than expected, managing to cover the whole of Kerala and the western coast.
Although patchy, weak rains will not immediately put rice sowing in danger, a spokesperson of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute said. However, the rains become critical from the second week of July.
"Summer sowing operations, particularly of rice, could be affected if the rain-bearing system doesn't pick up by July," the official said.
The rains are vital for farm output and economic growth as two-thirds of Indians depend on farm income and nearly 40% of India's arable land does not have any source of assured irrigation.
The farm ministry is anxiously monitoring the situation and its "contingency plan" prepared in advance is being kept ready, a senior ministry official said. The plan essentially is to switch cropping pattern and techniques, he said.
India's Met department may have to revise its earlier forecast of a normal monsoon, amid signs of rising ocean temperatures, although the summer rains made a near-timely arrival over Kerala by June 5.
Normal rains, which act as a strong check on inflation through good farm output, are critical if Asia's third-largest economy is to recover from a sharp slowdown.