The meteorological department’s latest rain forecast has been depressing, to say the least. The key north-west bread bowl of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan is headed for drought-like conditions, with an expected 15 per cent shortfall in monsoon rains. Most other parts of the country, including the grain-growing regions of South and Central India, are also expected to receive five to seven per cent less rains this season. Seen together, the country is in the throes of a major crisis, the results of which are unpredictable. It is, perhaps, the result of El Niño that begins as a giant pool of warm water swelling in the Pacific Ocean that sets off a chain reaction of weather events.
India is slated to be the first to suffer from the weather phenomenon, devastating to many countries and beneficial to some like the US. The agriculture ministry has prepared a blueprint to face the situation arising out of monsoon’s under-performance. What constitutes a silver line on the otherwise dark horizon are the granaries, which have been overflowing. Also, the water levels in the dams, reservoirs and other water bodies have been confidence-inspiring. These suggest that a famine-like condition is unlikely to arise in the near future. However, the same cannot be said about a possible rise in the prices of food grains, vegetables, milk, fruits, eggs and meat.
All this makes the Narendra Modi government’s task of containing food inflation doubly difficult. It will have to think of ingenious ways to keep the prices under check to insulate the common man from inflation. Nonetheless, there cannot be a substitute to increasing the production of agricultural commodities. The new government has outlined its plans to increase irrigation facilities, which have not been receiving due attention. It is a pity that six and a half decades after Independence, Indian farmers are still at the mercy of the vagaries of nature. Irrigation facilities need to be augmented so that the farmers can rely on a dependable system. It is better late than never.