A sluggish monsoon could be hurtling India towards its first drought in five years, as summer rains stand 43% below average overall, barring the Northeast and Mumbai.
Drought monitoring by the Met department for the week ended July 2 — the latest period for which data is available — showed drier situations across states, marked by a decline in soil moisture and poor pasture conditions.
The Met’s “aridity map” shows “severe arid conditions” in western Punjab and Haryana, southwest Jammu & Kashmir, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Telangana, central Maharashtra, coastal Andhra, east Madhya Pradesh and most of Chhattisgarh. A Met update said the monsoon should move into central India after five days.
“These are early stages of a pending drought, although the magnitude will be known later. There will be a drought if rains don’t revive within a week,” said DR Sikka, chairperson of the government’s ‘Monsoon Mission’. A shortfall of 11% or more in rains for the entire monsoon would cause widespread drought, he said.
Poor rains could trim India’s food output this year, the government’s Economy Survey tabled on July 9 said, pushing up prices that rose to a five-month high of 6.01% in May. The monsoon is critical as two-thirds of Indians depend on farm income. Good rains spur rural spending on most goods, which in turn boosts the economy.
The rain-bearing system has been slow to cover major food-bowl states, with sowing of key summer crops lagging at half of last year’s levels.
Paddy planting is down 30% while pulses lag by nearly 50%. The country could also be back to importing sugar in a year’s time, as cane-growing states remain dry. Although India has sufficient grain stocks, a bad monsoon causes severe shortfall in most vegetables, fruits and milk.
The monsoon, however, has been robust on the Bay of Bengal side with normal rains for the whole of the Northeast. In Mumbai, the season’s heaviest showers in the past two days left the financial capital flooded, forcing its residents to wade through knee-deep water or be stuck in hour-long traffic snarls. The suburban train network, the city’s lifeline, was also hit with services suspended for almost two hours.”