Rains play hide and seek; India worries, braces for worst | india | Hindustan Times
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Rains play hide and seek; India worries, braces for worst

With the monsoon continuing to elude farmers and weather experts alike, governments at the Centre and the states have begun bracing for the worst — a possible monsoon failure and a resultant drought. A nationwide review by Hindustan Times revealed that the situation on the ground is grim. Rajesh Mahapatra reports. State of the rains | About monsoon

india Updated: Jun 24, 2009 09:26 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra

With the monsoon continuing to elude farmers and weather experts alike, governments at the Centre and the states have begun bracing for the worst — a possible monsoon failure and a resultant drought.

The Central government has already held three high-level meetings in the past week, including a session chaired by Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar. State governments are taking measures —from inviting tenders for cloud seeding to advising farmers to switch crops — to counter what could develop into the first widespread drought in seven years.

“There is concern but no worry as yet. There is still time,” agriculture secretary T. Nanda Kumar said.

A delay in monsoon as such is not a cause for worry. If it revives by June 25, as expected by weather officials, and it rains well through the remaining part of the season, the country could still get a good crop.

But a quick nationwide review by Hindustan Times revealed that the situation on the ground is grim.

In states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa, farmers face large-scale crop losses, while in Kerala, Uttarakhand and elsewhere, shrinking reservoirs are affecting hydroelectric power generation and release of water to irrigated tracts.

“The next week will be crucial. If it doesn’t rain, we may have a very serious situation,” said R.K.Dewan, Engineer-in-Chief in Haryana, where authorities are battling to keep reservoirs of Bhakra and the Yamuna river from drying up.

“We’ve sent telegrams to our field officers to give priority to drinking water and village ponds over irrigation.”

The story is no different in other parts of the country.

In Himachal Pradesh, 30-35 per cent of the apple crop is likely to be destroyed.

A substantial number of paddy seedlings have been destroyed in Orissa and Bihar, where farmers had already taken to sowing in anticipation of early rains. The monsoon hit Kerala a week ahead of schedule, but then got stuck around the Deccan plateau.

On Tuesday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a diesel subsidy of Rs 10 per litre to help farmers pump water to keep their fields wet.

“The situation is alarming,” said Rajaram Patidar, a farmer from the village of Mandideep, 20 kilometres off Bhopal, where Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan participated in havans to pray for rain.

In the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, which saw a bumper crop last year after five years of drought, the delay brought back memories of the distant past. Most reservoirs have already dried up there.

“We are praying,” said Pushpendra, head of the farmers’ group in Banda.

If the monsoon fails, it would hurt agricultural production, as nearly 60 per cent of the crop sown in India depends on rains. More importantly, it would hit the recovery of the broader economy that has slowed because of a global financial crisis.

The last big drought was in 2002, when agricultural output contracted 6.9 per cent and slowed economic growth to 3.8 per cent – the lowest in 13 years.

(Inputs from Zia Haq and state bureau)