India’s June-September monsoon has been deficient so far and quite uneven in its spread, with the rain-bearing system entering a phase that will largely determine whether the country can escape a drought for the first time in six years.
Overall, rains have been 9% lower than normal, with sharper deficits in some areas. Rainfall during August-September, the remaining two months of the rainy season, would be poor at 84%, the weather bureau has said in a fresh update.
The weather bureau is firm on its earlier prediction of a deficient monsoon at 88%. According to the Met’s classification, the monsoon is considered normal if rains are between 96% and 104% of the 50-year average rainfall of 89cm.
The rains are vital for Asia’s third-largest economy, as agriculture employs nearly half of the population and 60% of India’s farmed area depends on the monsoon.
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The rains so far have been patchy in their distribution, which means while some areas have experienced an excess and even deadly flooding, others have had drier spells.
North India for instance is currently in the active zone of the monsoon. The surge has to do with a feature known as the “monsoon trough”, an elongated horizontal wet channel, running close to the Himalayan range, which helps form it in the first place by locking in the cloudy system.
Yet, plotted on a rainfall map, at least 35% of the country’s area appears to be in the deficient category, while 35% has received normal rains. In another 30% area, rainfall has been surplus.
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A poor monsoon could stoke food prices, which have been increasing steadily, with retail price inflation quickening to 5.4% in June, compared to a 4.8% rise in April.
Rains have been deficient by up to 52% in Maharashtra, especially in the Marathwada region, a belt growing chickpea, red gram and cotton. In the northern half of Karnataka, the monsoon has been 45% below normal, followed by deficits of up to 35% in Telagana’s Rayalseema, which saw a searing heat wave in June.
The monsoon has been below normal in Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, UP and Bihar, although the northwest as a whole has got good rains.
Rainfall of less than 90% has been found to correlate with drought-like conditions. The weather office forecast carries an error margin of 4%.
“July is the most crucial month for sowing and has the strongest correlation with food grain production. Even though cumulative rainfall is only 4.1% below normal (till July 24), we believe the shortfall in rains over the first three weeks of July will dampen food grain production to some degree,” Sonal Varma, an economist with brokerage firm Nomura Financial Advisory and Securities, said.The sowing of rice -- the main kharif staple -- has progressed well because of good rains in the northwest which accounts for 29% of rice output. However, coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds could suffer from poor rains and low reservoir levels in Maharashtra and Gujarat.