Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat battle serious drought situation
Four large states, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, which together produce over a third of the country’s total output of select commodities critical to farm incomes , and send 127 representatives to the 543-member Lok Sabha, making them critical to election outcomes as well, are battling serious drought in many pockets, prompting the Centre to review the situation.
Many districts in each of these states are witnessing a continuing drought since last year due to regional deficiencies in the country’s main southwest monsoon (June-September) and the relatively smaller winter monsoon season (October-December) which brings rain to south Indian states.
These “pain pockets”, as an analyst called them, are going to further impact the already shrinking farm incomes and have contributed to lower rabi or winter-sown acreages of key crops. They are also a big concern to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Agrarian distress is believed to be one reason why the BJP lost assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December.
With general elections due in the summer, the drought is a matter of concern to the government.
“Voting outcomes depend on many factors but farmers are surely angry, especially small farmers. The water situation in Maharashtra is quite serious in some areas. Farm packages announced by the government has benefited large farmers. That’s another problem,” said Amruta Anil Suryawanshi, a faculty member at the Pune-based Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics.
The Maharashtra government has declared drought in 151 talukas (a revenue zone within a district) spread over 26 districts. Karnataka has officially notified drought in 24 of its 30 districts.
Andhra Pradesh has declared the districts of Sri Potti Sriramulu Nellore, Kadapa, Kurnool, Chittoor, Prakasam, and Anantapuramu as drought-hit.
Maharashtra’s situation is by far the most serious. For the first time since 1972, it has seen back-to-back winter and summer droughts. Nashik and Marathwada are facing serious water crises.
A central team, including officials from the agriculture ministry, travelled to many of the impacted areas to assess damage to crops last month. On Tuesday, finance minister Piyush Goyal and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh met to discuss relief measures. The Centre has decided to release ~6,691.47 crore to these four states to mitigate the impact.
The 2018 winter monsoon, a short but critical rainy season for the peninsular states, has been substantially below normal at 56% of the long-period average, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the country’s national weather bureau. “This was 6th lowest since 1901,” the IMD’s annual weather review said.
This means the winter monsoon was deficient by more than half of what the average rainfall should have been, said Mahesh Palawat, the chief meteorologist of Skymet, a weather forecasting firm.
Winter rainfall over the “core region of the south peninsula” (comprising coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south interior Karnataka and Kerala) was below average, the IMD review states.
According to the agriculture ministry’s January 18 sowing report, the latest period for which data are available, lower-than-normal rains have brought down the total winter-sown area by 5%, while there is a significant dip in states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Area under gram (a pulses variety) is down by nearly 10%, while winter rice is down 22%, the data show. Wheat, the biggest winter crop, is down 2.5%.
“This is of concern because the rabi crop accounts for 40% of India’s agricultural produce [based on 14 key crops which account for 97% of total agricultural produce, except sugarcane and horticulture crops] in both volume and value terms,” said Hetal Gandhi, director of CRISIL Ltd, a ratings firm.
The rabi season “showing clear signs of weakness” means there could be a “trickle-down effect on the [non-farm] sectors being driven by rural India,” according to Gandhi.
The four-month summer monsoon in 2018, the lifeblood of the country’s rural economy, though normal overall, was deficient in these pockets. Back-to-back rainfall deficiency meant the conditions worsened.
For instance, Maharashtra Marathwada recorded a 20% rainfall deficiency. Likewise, eastern Madhya Pradesh was 12% deficient. The rains in Rayalseema region in Andhra Pradesh were 36% below average. Deficiency in eastern Rajasthan was 23%, while in northern Karnataka, it was 30%.
The cumulative effect is that acreage for crops such as jowar and bajra (coarse cereals), jute, pulses and groundnut, among others, has seen a dip.