This year’s monsoon rains have been deficient so far, the country’s weather officials said on Monday, a worrying beginning to an already delayed wet season that also faces a threat from the El Nino weather condition later next month.
Good rains will be crucial for the new government’s efforts to prop up the economy from its slowest growth since the 1980s as well as to cool inflation that averaged nearly 10% for the past two years.
“Rainfalls in the first month of the season are expected to be deficient as a result of the weak start of the season," Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) chief LS Rathore told Reuters, adding that monsoon rains had been 44% below average so far.
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The government has stockpiled staples such as rice, wheat and sugar from bumper harvests in the last few years but it has limited means to control a jump in costs of fruits and vegetables that have the largest impact on food inflation in India.
High prices could prevent the Reserve Bank of India easing rates to boost the economy. Conversely, good rains contribute to overall market confidence.
Earth sciences minister Jitendra Singh said on Monday that rainfall between June and September could be between 90 and 96% of the long-term average.
Meanwhile, north India continued to swelter under a heat wave, in part due to the sluggish progress of monsoon, although parts of Uttar Pradesh received sporadic rain on Monday.
At least four people, including a woman, are believed to have died of heat stroke in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, which has been recording its maximum temperature at around 45 degree Celsius for the past few days.
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In Delhi, the maximum temperature touched a 62-year high at 47.8 degree Celsius on Sunday.
In April, before the start of the monsoon season, the IMD had forecast below-average rainfall in 2014 due to an emerging El Nino in which warm water rises to the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
However, the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon - which can cause drought in South Asia - is likely to be weak in India, a weather office official said.
"No impact of El Nino is right now seen on the Indian monsoon as it is still in a neutral condition," said D.S. Pai, lead forecaster at the IMD.
The IMD defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm for the entire season.
Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said told reporters on Monday the government will consider providing subsidised diesel, cheaper loans and extra seeds to farmers if rains are poor this year.