India’s June-September monsoon, the lifeblood of Asia’s third-largest economy, will most likely be “deficient” this year with the met department downgrading its forecast from 93% to 88%, earth sciences minister Harsh Vardhan said on Tuesday.
    The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) revision -- which had forecast “below normal” monsoon in April -- will potentially toughen challenges for the Narendra Modi government already battling a farm crisis triggered by unseasonal rains in March-April this year.
    The arrival of the monsoons has already been delayed in the country’s southern tip, Kerala, by about four-five days and large parts of the country experiencing a searing heat wave which has left near 2000 people dead.
    “Let’s pray to God that the revised forecast does not come true,” Vardhan said, implying how much the annual rains mean for the government and the country already spooked by fears of the weather phenomenon, El Nino.
    El Nino, meaning ‘little boy’ in Spanish, is caused by a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, triggering dry spells in southeast Asia.
    Rainfall of less than 90% is considered to be a drought year.
    The latest prediction, however, has an error margin of 4 percentage points either way.
    The government expressed concerns about a below-par monsoon after the Reserve Bank of India, taking advantage of subdued inflation, cut interest rates for a third time this year on Tuesday.
    “Prices of essential commodities have already started rising and they will rise further if the monsoon remains deficient as forecast by the government,” said Harish Galipelli, head of commodities and currencies at Inditrade Derivatives and Commodities.
    “It’s not good news for the farming community that is under distress. Last year, their harvest was affected by poor rainfall and unseasonal rains. This year’s drought will deepen their problems.”
    Anger is growing in the countryside after unseasonal rain and hailstorm ravaged farms earlier this year, pushing many debt-laden farmers to suicide.
    Dipping farm incomes could leave the NDA government vulnerable to sharper opposition attacks, especially from the Congress, already on battle mode over the controversial land acquisition bill.
    The rains are vital not only for agriculture and rural incomes but also the broader economy.
    Should the rains be patchy, industrial expansion tends to sputter too, since nearly half of most consumer items – from cars and TV sets to gold jewelry – are bought by the rural consumers.
    A poor monsoon could also mean the Modi government would have to concentrate on mitigating its effects by pumping in more money, taking the focus of policymakers away from reforms.
    The rain-bearing system, that typically begins its four-month journey across India on June 1 in Kerala, is also crucial for power, drinking and irrigation. A bad monsoon hits power production since hydropower accounts for a quarter of India’s electricity output, critical for industry and households alike.
    Drought-like conditions fan food prices, often worsening shortages of items such as pulses, onions and cooking oil.
    An advanced government estimate of winter output made before the recent unseasonal rains had already projected a 2.6% decline due to effects of a late drought. A poor monsoon could further trim harvest of major crops, such as rice and soya bean, pushing up food prices.
    According to the Met department’s simulation, which is not part of the official monsoon forecast, drier conditions are set to be more acute in the grain-bowl northwest and central India, compared to the south and northeast.
    The government has stockpiles of staples such as rice, wheat and sugar from bumper harvests in the last few years but it has limited means to control a jump in costs of fruits and vegetables that have the largest impact on food inflation in India.

    Read: Monsoon rains delayed, to arrive by June 5

    Maharashtra to use cloud seeding as back up if monsoon fails

No easy task for fast and furious Gill in APRC

  • Vinayak Pande, Hindustan Times, Whangarei, New Zealand
  • |
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2012 00:30 IST

Gaurav Gill has impressed many with his ability to adapt his driving style to suit the Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia. HT Photo/Vinayak Pande

The very thought of reminiscing on wasted opportunities is not the norm for racing/rally drivers and this is exactly the case with Gaurav Gill and the Chinese round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) in 2010.

Gill was second in the drivers' championship to MRF teammate Katsuhiko Taguchi by three points going into the rally, which was the final round of the season that year. When Taguchi crashed out, Gill needed to do no more than finish well enough to score four points to take the title. It seemed like a forgone conclusion for Gill to become the first Indian driver to win an FIA-sanctioned championship.

Gill too crashed out, however, and Taguchi claimed the title. "I don't even think about it," Gill told HT when asked about the missed opportunity. "I'm a professional sportsman and I just move on from things like this. There's no point digging up old graves."

With three full seasons of competing in the APRC under his belt, however, Team MRF boss Anthony Rodricks feels that Gill could be doing more to fulfill his true potential. "There is no doubt about his speed," said Rodricks. "But he needs to use his head a little bit more and not just rely on speed to win."

Time to deliver
Even three-time APRC champion and the 2002 Production class World Rally Champion Karamjit Singh believes it is time for Gill to deliver the goods. "Well he has been driving in the APRC for a while now," Singh told HT. "He needs to make less mistakes. It's good to be fast but you need to finish rallies in order to achieve good results."

Gill's third-place finish in the opening round of the championship this year should go some way to helping the Delhi-based driver deliver those results. "He (Gill) drove very well in this rally," said Rodricks.

"Considering that he is driving a car that is one step below a WRC car and that we only tested it once before this rally, he did very well."

Considering the calibre of drivers that Gill is up against this year, it remains to be seen if he can challenge for the title. His teammate has six WRC podiums and his rivals in the Proton team have 139 WRC starts between them.

An APRC title, or at least a strong challenge, in a field of drivers like this will go a long way in raising Gill's stock amongst the global rallying fraternity.

The writer's trip has been sponsored by MRF


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