In drought-hit Karnataka, 53% rise in calls to weather helpline

Anxious farmers dial in. Karnataka is reeling from three successive years of drought.
People gather around a well in a drought-hit area in Lakya near Chikmagalur, Karnataka, on June 5.(PTI File Photo)
People gather around a well in a drought-hit area in Lakya near Chikmagalur, Karnataka, on June 5.(PTI File Photo)
Updated on Jul 05, 2017 02:03 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Bengaluru | By

Reeling from three consecutive years of drought, anxious farmers in Karnataka increasingly called up the state’s weather helpline for information on monsoon and updates in 2017.

The Varuna Mitra helpline received a record 4.44 lakh calls in the first half of the year, as against 2.89 lakh received over the corresponding period last year.

“The increase in calls is surprising considering that this is not a toll-free service,” said GS Srinivas Reddy, director of Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre, which runs the helpline.

Reddy attributed the surge in calls to the anxiety farmers faced over the performance of the southwest monsoon, which arrived in the state on June 8.

In June, the helpline received 1.51 lakh calls, the highest for a single month in its history.

There has been a steady increase in calls to the helpline annually. In 2016, Varuna Mitra received 9.92 lakh calls, which was the highest since it was set up in 2011. As of July 3 this year, the helpline received 4.6 lakh calls.

According to Reddy, the increase in calls could also be because the distribution of the monsoon has not been even so far. While the rains have been deficient by 9% in the state overall, this masks a wide variance in distribution.

The northern parts of the state have received 4% excess rainfall, when compared to normal, while the south interior parts of the state, where the Cauvery river flows, has seen a deficit of 39%.

The coastal districts in the state have seen a deficit of 3%, whereas districts located in the Western Ghats have a deficit of 21%.

According to Sunil Gavaskar, a researcher at the state natural disaster monitoring centre, the onset of the monsoon has been good. “But the monsoon trough over the western coast has been weak. This has meant that the winds that the blow the monsoon clouds into the interior parts have not been strong, resulting in the deficit,” he said.

Reddy said deficient rainfall in Kerala’s Wayanad district, from where water flows into Karnataka’s Kabini reservoir, was a worry. “The clouds have already moved towards Gujarat and Maharashtra, but things could still turn around.”

Highest calls to helpline were from south Karnataka

Tumkur - 39,218

Chickaballapur - 25,068

Chitradurga - 23,080

Chickamagaluru - 20,625

Hassan - 19,403

Farmers, though, seem to be undeterred and have taken to sowing with enthusiasm. According to state agriculture department data, sowing has been taken up in 23.75 lakh hectares (ha) which is 93% of normal.

Gokul Prasad, assistant statistical officer at the agriculture department, said the monsoon’s performance over the southern districts was worrying. “Districts in south interior Karnataka account for 33% of the total sown area in the state.”

Prasad said even last year the monsoon had weakened, but only after July. “Last June, 164 taluks out of 176 had received normal or excess rain. This year only 76 taluks received this quantum of rain.”

Reddy said it was still not time to ring the alarm bells. “The majority of sowing happens towards the end of July. So, hopefully the rains can pick up by then,” he said.

There is genuine concern, though, over the performance of monsoon, especially because of the deficient rains last year. The northwest monsoon was very deficient last year, and sowing was down by record levels in the rabi season.

According to the Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, sowing was down in the state by around 40%.

As a result of this, the Karnataka government recently announced a partial waiver of farmer loans. Chief minister Siddaramaiah said farmer loans of up to Rs 50,000 taken from cooperative banks would be written off.

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