Budgets come and go but it is said that the fate of India’s economy is more often determined by the monsoon winds. It is, therefore, heartening to note that both private forecaster Skymet and the government’s India Meteorological Department (IMD) are concurring that this year’s annual rains are expected to be above normal. But that is far from enough as the nation feels the fallout of two successive monsoon failures, with reservoirs running dry in many parts of central India. What’s more, the Met’s pre-monsoon outlook predicts an abnormally hot summer across the country.
Heat waves must be surmounted before blessings arrive from the skies. The agonies of parched lands in Marathwada and Telangana are grim reminders of what could happen elsewhere in a country where the June-September rains account for 75% of annual rainfall and water half of agricultural lands, while 70% of people live in rural areas. It is heartwarming to see special trains carrying water to arid Latur in Maharashtra’s interior, but it is time to think beyond short-term palliatives to alleviate India’s rural crisis, which indirectly puts pressure on urban prosperity both in terms of the industrial demand villages generate and the distress migration that occurs when the monsoons fail.
Ten-wagon trains carrying 50,000 litres of water crossing 350 km in the hinterland is the stuff of visual legend, but long-term solutions lie in boosting river and canal networks, sophisticated water harvesting methods and monsoon-friendly afforestation.
On the farming side, there is much to be said about the pattern of the monsoon which is unpredictable in spread and speed even when its overall average scores well. Crop cycles tend to get affected as a result. We also live in the shadow of climate change. Land reclamation and efficient soil and water management, with well-planned seasonal crop mixes using short-duration varieties, should form part of a comprehensive strategy to protect and boost monsoon-dependent agriculture.
India’s monsoon-forecasting models need to be supplemented with emerging methods in data science, irrigation and seed use, and evangelised with communication technology-driven extension methods. The stereotype of the Indian farmer needs to change from the haggard punter on rains to an Internet-savvy manager of nature. This needs fiscal and policy commitments. Agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution, and the kind of responsibilities required to overcome the monsoon’s challenges need active central intervention. Fortunately, there is plenty of talent and research in state-run bodies to enable that. Smart cities we know of. How about smart villages now?