A dry spell has forced several states to cut back farm water and channel it to households, as levels in key rain-filled reservoirs — critical for crops, power, and drinking — have dropped below the 10-year average.
"It is a crisis of sorts," Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank told HT.
West Bengal farm minister Narendra Dey said the eastern state was drawing from only one major irrigation source, Damodar Valley, because of unavailability in other two — the Kansawati and Mourakhi basins.
India routinely monitors 81 reservoirs of national importance for water security.
"The levels are both less than last year's as well as the 10-year average," AK Bajaj, chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC) said.
"They will need a good monsoon and snowmelts to be filled again," he added.
Bajaj said in southern states, the situation was comfortable due to rainfall.
Of the 81 reservoirs, there is a deficiency in 79 as on Thursday, Bajaj added.
Rajasthan is putting farm water to drinking use, NP Sharma, deputy secretary of the state's water resources department, said.
The reservoirs will need to be adequately replenished by monsoon showers for the oncoming kharif or summer-sown crops, which account for half of India's food output. Timely monsoon is critical, a senior official said.
In grain bowl Punjab, a major irrigated state, water levels are down 25 per cent.
Of the 36 hydro-power reservoirs, the storage buildup is less than normal in 19. A searing onset to summer has hit power output in northern states.
India has forecast a normal monsoon, critical to easing pressure on the economy battered by last year's drought, the worst in three decades.
The Bengal farm minister said Boro paddy, a short duration rice variety consumed locally, has taken a hit. Rising temperatures, which have stayed above the 40-degree mark at many places in northern India throughout April, have also depleted soil moisture levels, key to crop health. The June-September monsoon is a critical for India, as two-thirds of Indians depend on agriculture.
Adequate rains will boost output of major summer crops, such as rice, oilseeds, pulses, cane and corn. Patchy rains last year cut rice output by 14 per cent and sugar by 13 per cent.