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After hitting a dry spell, monsoon revives again

ByAbhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jul 17, 2021 04:54 AM IST

There are regional disparities and experts believe that the next two weeks could be crucial for agricultural activity in the kharif (monsoon crop) season.

Forty-five days into the official monsoon season, what is the status of rains this year? The short answer is that the monsoon seems to be reviving once again after hitting a dry spell. However, there are regional disparities and experts believe that the next two weeks could be crucial for agricultural activity in the kharif (monsoon crop) season. HT has analysed India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) gridded rainfall database to track the progress of the 2021 monsoon, so far.

Children out during heavy rain at Yamuna River Bank in New Delhi(Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)

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The period from June-September is officially considered to be the monsoon season in India. The standard way to track the adequacy (or lack of it) of monsoon rainfall is to check current year’s rainfall with the Long Period Average (LPA) of rainfall. The LPA is the average of rainfall in the fifty-year period between 1961 and 2010.

Up to June 20, there were only two days in the current monsoon season when the daily rainfall was less than the Long Period Average (LPA). But on each of the 21 days following June 20, daily rainfall was less than the LPA at the all-India level. Then, things changed again -- daily rainfall has caught up with the LPA since July 12. However, the surplus rainfall from July 12 onwards has not been enough to offset the deficit on account of the dry spell between June 21 and July 11. Cumulative rainfall was still 1.3% below the LPA up to 8:30 AM on July 15. To be sure, IMD only considers monsoon rains to be deficient when they are at least 20% lower than the LPA. This means that India has had a normal monsoon (within a 20% range of the LPA number), so far.

Regional variation in monsoon

As is often the case, there are regions which have received excess rains and others where rainfall has been deficient. Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, four north-eastern states (Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh) and Odisha had a deficit in cumulative rainfall up to July 15. The rest of the country has received either normal or excess rainfall.

There are variations within states too, especially the big ones. For example, the eastern half of Uttar Pradesh has received normal or excess rainfall, whereas the western half (such as the districts of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahar, Ghaziabad, and Gautam Buddha Nagar) has a deficit in cumulative rainfall. In Punjab, all districts except Moga, Kapurthala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, and Gurdaspur have a deficit. An analysis of cumulative rainfall by districts shows that as of 8:30 am , July 15 , 229 of the 614 census 2011 districts in India (with Delhi’s districts merged as one) for which this calculation is possible had received normal rainfall; 223 districts had varying degrees of deficient rainfall; but 162 districts had varying degrees of excess rainfall. A similar analysis on June 27 put the number of rainfall deficient districts at 127.

District-wise cumulative rainfall categories

National rainfall deficit, but floods in Bihar and Assam

Before the monsoon finally hit Delhi on July 14, the city state was staring at a water crisis. Water level in the Yamuna had fallen to 667 feet the lowest since 1965. While a dry Yamuna made national headlines, some parts of the country are also battling floods. There was large-scale damage of property and at least 13 deaths in flash floods due to a cloudburst in Himachal Pradesh earlier this week. According to data from the Central Water Commission (CWC) as on July 15, rivers were flowing above the danger mark in seven districts, six of which were in north Bihar. While water levels in rivers can also be a result of climatic factors upstream, all flooded districts in Bihar have seen excess monsoon rainfall this season. The localised flood situation notwithstanding, water levels in the 129 or 130 main reservoirs of the country were 33.1% in the week ending July 15 against the last 10 years’ average of 28.7%.

Delayed monsoon has introduced a lag in kharif sowing

The monsoon’s dry spell between June 20 and July 12 seems to have affected the sowing of crops. Up to July 9, the latest date for which data is available in the CMIE database, only 46.6% of the area that is normally sown during the kharif season was covered. This is 5.9 percentage points lower than the 52.5% area sown by July 9 in 2020, but higher than the 2018 and 2019 numbers. Among different types of crops, only sugarcane has done better this year compared to 2020.

To be sure, much of the delay is in sowing of cereals other than rice and pulses other than arhar (pigeon pea), the main crops in these categories. The delay in sowing might correct itself as the monsoon seems to be making progress this week. “It may still be too early to draw any conclusions as we may have to wait till end of July as sowing patterns have changed over the years and while the monsoon officially is supposed to be a period between June and September, the arrival has tended to be delayed on a consistent basis. This year though the arrival was on time, but a loss of momentum has raised a flag,” said a July 13 note by Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings.

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