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A waterproof plan

The initial forecast of the Met that this year’s southwest monsoon will be ‘near-normal’ is music to the ears of the UPA government.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2008 22:05 IST

The initial forecast of the India Meteorological Department (Met) that this year’s southwest monsoon will be ‘near-normal’ is music to the ears of the UPA government.

Plentiful rains can indeed dampen the rising trend in food inflation, which is perhaps the government’s biggest worry at the moment.

Near-normality refers to overall rainfall being 99 per cent of the long-period average and this forecast will be further refined in June.

India’s economy might be services-driven but its fortunes still depend on its tryst with the monsoon that will hit Kerala’s coast on May 20, sweep over the peninsula and shower the rest of the country with rainfall till September.

The monsoon matters for India’s agricultural economy. Plentiful rainfall is a good augury for higher foodgrains production during the kharif or summer season (sown in June-July) that can break the current spiral of rising food prices. Higher rural incomes, in turn, boost demand for fast-moving consumer goods, tractors etc. and raise industrial and overall growth of the Indian economy.

Five consecutive years of good rains also coincided with India’s run of 8.6 per cent growth during the last four years. The upshot is that good rains will boost growth of India’s economy that is flagging of late.

The Met’s initial forecast, however, does not say much about how the monsoon will fare during the season or its spread over various regions. The monsoon is inherently unpredictable with certain regions receiving deficient rains while others experience floods despite overall rainfall being normal.

Scientists of the Bengaluru-based Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation found that India’s southwest monsoon was, in fact, shrinking in terms of its spatial coverage between 1951 and 2003. This has serious implications as the affected regions become unviable for cultivating certain crops.

So, while the monsoon is important, the moral of the story is to reduce our dependence on it. The bulk of rabi (winter) production in the vanguard agrarian regions of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh happens to be resilient to its vagaries, thanks to canal-fed irrigation. But the government must extend irrigation facilities elsewhere to make the country less dependent on the monsoon.