The annual monsoon swept into Kerala on Friday, bringing widespread showers and drenching parts of neighbouring Tamil Nadu and southern Karnataka after a brief four-day delay, the weather office said.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced the start of the monsoon’s four-month journey across the country after two consecutive days of extensive rain of at least 2.5mm in the southern state, a key condition for the official confirmation.
People thronged the beaches in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, as they danced and cheered with the first smattering of droplets hitting the ground, while shutterbugs vied for the best vantage points and youngsters sloshed through puddles on zippy bikes and open jeeps.
“It is the build-up that drew me here,” said Vivek Nair, an engineering student. “For the past week or so, there were many reports of a slack monsoon. And people suffered like never before because of the intense heat this time. So, this rainy season is special for us.”
A good monsoon can be the difference between survival and penury for nearly two-thirds of India’s farmers with no access to irrigation. The agricultural sector accounts for about 15% of India’s $2 trillion economy.
The rains are likely to help lower temperatures in parts of India baked by a blistering heat wave that has claimed more than 2,200 lives over the past three weeks.
On June 2, the weather bureau lowered its forecast of this year’s rainy spell from “deficient” to “below-normal”, stoking fears of a drought and signalling new challenges for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that is already battling a farm crisis triggered by unseasonal rains.
“The entire South Arabian Sea, Lakshwadeep, coastal Karnataka and some parts of Tamil Nadu are now covered,” a met official at the Thiruvananthapuram centre said.
A senior official said the June-Septmeber monsoon, which accounts for over 70% of the country’s annual rainfall and is vital for farms, power and drinking, would continue moving north over the next two-three days, although an El Nino weather pattern remains a key risk.
Poor rains tend to crimp food output, stoking inflation. Last year, an 11% deficient monsoon trimmed India’s food grain yield by 5.3% to 251.1 million tonnes.
The effects of El Nino, a weather glitch, can ripple across the world, from drier conditions in India to storms in Peru. In developing countries, an El Nino can roil agricultural markets.
June 1 is considered the normal arrival date for the rains, but the IMD forecast landfall on May 30, with a four-day margin of error.
Forecasters are closely watching a key Indian Ocean barometer – called the Indian Ocean Dipole or IOD – that can sometimes protect the monsoon from being snapped by the El Nino.
The IOD is the difference in sea-surface temperature between two areas (or poles) in the Indian Ocean – a western pole in the Arabian Sea and an eastern pole in the Andaman Islands. It is currently neutral.
In this fight between the IOD and El Nino, a neutral or positive IOD aids the monsoon, while a negative IOD is bad news.
Meanwhile, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh held review of emergency measures on Friday as India braces for a possible drought. The Centre has asked to make full use of the rural jobs programme MNREGA to boost farm incomes on fears of a bad harvest.
Unseasonal rains ruined winter harvests and caused farm incomes to fall 1.4% in the January and March quarter, even as the overall economy grew 7.5% in the first three months of the year.
The monsoon is vital for Asia’s third-largest economy, as two-thirds of Indians depend on farm income and nearly 60% of the country’s farm land does not have irrigation facilities. Poor rains tend to crimp food output, stoking inflation.
Friday’s meeting was attended by secretaries and officials from the agriculture, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, power, and water and rural development ministries, among others.
Nearly 116,000 water-harvesting and drought-related projects are already under way as part of drought preparedness, the farm minister said. The power ministry has made provisions for greater energy demand in rural areas, while 90 lakh tone fertilizers have been dispatched to states, against 60 lakh tonne requirment, Singh added.