Monsoon 2022: Rain deficit leaves Bihar’s fields dry, paddy farmers worried

Farmers blame the government for failing to provide adequate power supply and water in canals

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 17 August 2022
Transplantation of paddy seedlings after August 15 is not desirable for quality yields and production. Photo: iStock

Paddy farmers in Bihar are worried as the state has recorded deficit rainfall since June this year. Paddy fields are dry and have developed huge cracks, an alarming situation for rainfed rice growers.

The transplantation of paddy seedlings has been done in 78.28 per cent of the total target as of August 15, 2022. The seedlings were transplanted in 2.748 million hectares (MHA) of 3.512 MHA this year, according to the official data of the state agriculture department.

The farmers could not sow paddy in 0.763 MHA this Kharif season due to the lack of rain. A large tract of agricultural land, nearly 22 per cent of the target, was directly affected by deficient rainfall.

Also read: Should a drought in Bihar be declared? Experts say yes, govt says wait

Transplantation after Sawan (the second and final monsoon month, according to the traditional calendar), which ends August 12, is not good according to tradition.

It is also not desirable for quality yields and production if done after August 15, experts say.

The department said transplantation was completed in only four of Bihar’s 38 districts. These include Kishanganj, Purnea, Katihar and Araria. The process has been below the expected normal in nine districts, including Jamui, Banka, Munger, Nawada, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura, Gaya and Aurangabad.

 Suresh Yadav, a marginal farmer from Aurangabad, told this reporter:

After a dry Sawan, the ongoing Bhadon month has also been dry. This is something unusual. Our paddy cultivation mainly depends on normal rainfall during Sawan and Bhadon. We have transplanted paddy seedlings using groundwater using a costly diesel pump. With a long dry spell, farmers will have to struggle to save paddy.

”The transplantation was delayed due to rainfall deficit and now, a major challenge is to keep alive the hope that there will be rainfall in the third and fourth weeks of August and in September,” he added.

Farmers in Jamui district, which has the lowest paddy transplantation, have been demanding that the government declares a drought.

“We are not able to cultivate paddy on our land. We are facing drought and the government should take measures to help us,” Kuldip Mandal, a farmer, said.

About 20 districts in Bihar have received less than the average rainfall so far. Twelve districts have received less than 50 per cent of normal rainfall, said officials from the disaster management department.

Bihar recorded 389.5 millimetres (mm) of rainfall from June 1 through August 16. This was 40 per cent less than the normal, 648.3 mm of rainfall, said Sanjay Kumar, an official at the India Meteorological Department, Patna.

“The monsoon system is weak over Bihar and there is little possibility of heavy rainfall in the coming days. Deficient rainfall is unlikely to change much unless a strong monsoon system develops,” added Kumar.

Farmers are hapless due to deficient rainfall as they depend heavily on the monsoon for paddy cultivation. The government last month decided to increase diesel subsidy for irrigation to Rs 75 per litre from the earlier approved Rs 60.

Bihar’s Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, expressed concern over deficient rainfall twice in the last month while meeting with top officials to review the situation.

He had directed the officials to ensure power supply in rural areas and adequate water to the farms up to the tail-end of canals for irrigation. 

But a month after this, the reality is something different. The power supply is inadequate in rural areas and canals are devoid of water. 

Farmers blame the government for failing to provide adequate power supply and water in canals. In a few places, farmers have protested against the same.

“Most of the 23 reservoirs in the state are either dry or have little water. Last year, most reservoirs had over 50 per cent water by this time, so dry spells during the sowing season were well taken care of,” an official of the water resources department (WRD) said.

Of the 23 reservoirs in the state, barely three have water levels over 40 per cent, while some are almost dry or have less than 10 per cent, according to WRD.

The farmers have been facing a difficult situation and the government is aware of it, said Bihar agriculture minister, Sudhakar Singh.

“I have taken oath as a minister only the day before. The department will now take some decisions to help farmers, who are still looking at the sky and clouds for rains,” he added.

Bihar farmers usually go for paddy sowing after June 20. “Those farmers who have transplanted paddy seedlings in July or early August are still waiting for heavy rainfall. 

Adequate watering is a must for paddy during Sawan and Bhadon. Crops will dry or get damaged if water is inadequate,” said Akhilesh Mahto, a small farmer from the Patna district.

A large part of Bihar is in the grip of a drought-like situation. The government will sooner or later have no other option but to declare at least over a dozen districts drought-hit, if not the entire state.

An estimated two-thirds of Bihar’s 120 million population and nearly two-thirds of all agricultural activity depends on agriculture.

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