Drought chased monsoon this year. From the first week of June, as monsoon spread across the country, the spectre of drought loomed large. And the government finally accepted it is a drought on August 3, about a fortnight before the end of the sowing season—August 15. A couple of days earlier, the empowered group of ministers on agriculture hinted at a drought worse than the one in 2009 in terms of size of geographical area impacted by deficit monsoon.
“The second half of the monsoon season will be deficient. There may be drought in certain areas,” said Laxman Singh Rathore, director general of India Meteorological Department (IMD), at a press conference on Friday.
Just a day before that, IMD issued a new monsoon forecast for the next two months of the season. It says the monsoon will be deficient. IMD also acknowledges that El Nino has revived. “The El Nino conditions are likely to have an adverse impact on the rainfall over the country during the second half of the monsoon season,” it says.
The new estimates forecast the monsoon will be less than 90 per cent of the long period average (based on the rainfall patterns from 1951-2000). Rainfall during August will be normal but in September it will be deficient. It may be recalled that IMD had declared a normal monsoon (96 per cent) in its first forecast before the onset of the monsoon
The second stage forecast of the IMD is usually made in mid-July but this year it was delayed by a fortnight, fuelling speculation that government was not in favour of the usual forecast because of the impact deficient monsoon may have on overall market sentiments. Also, the Union agriculture minister (Sharad Pawar) didn't attend office for a week in the second half of July due to reported political strain with the coalition major, Congress party.
From the very first week of monsoons in June, rain has been deficient. It started with a deficit of 42 per cent. Though monsoon recovered well, at the end of July it still was 20 per cent deficient (see graph). What triggered the alarm bell was the consistent shortfall in the month of July, a critical month for sowing.
Week-wise rainfall deficit
On August 1, the minister of state for agriculture, Harish Rawat, hinted at IMD's change in forecast. “Rains may be normal or even above normal in August. But I am not sure about September,” he told media persons on the sidelines of a conference in Delhi.
The same day, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on drought met for the first time since 2009, the last severe drought India witnessed. After the meeting, Pawar revealed to the media a drought situation worse than the one in 2009—around 64 percent of India's districts (400 of total 627) are experiencing drought-like situation. “The intensity of the drought is similar to that of 2009,” says Ashish Bahuguna, agriculture secretary to government of India. In 2009, drought impacted 246 districts.
With IMD's new forecast, many states are expected to declare many of their districts drought-affected. This will trigger the official procedures to put in place emergency measures. Though states like Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana are experiencing a big deficit in rainfall (see map), they have not officially declared drought. Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka have declared many districts drought-impacted and the Central government has already started the process of giving emergency relief. Two days ago, the Central government declared a Rs 2,000 crore relief package to drought-affected states.
Rainfall deficit map