With the monsoon having withdrawn from India, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has said that rainfall deficit this year would be 12 per cent over the long period average (LPA). This may be better than what was expected at the onset of the season, but the authorities have described it as a below-normal monsoon and the worst in the past five years. The regional variation in the rainfall deficit contained in IMD’s weekly report presents a more sobering picture. While central India, which includes Maharashtra, and the southern peninsula have the least rainfall deficit, major agricultural regions such as Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Punjab and West Uttar Pradesh have received deficient rainfall by more than 50 per cent. A seven per cent fall in production over last year’s harvest has been predicted.
This might not present any immediate challenge if the government uses the large buffer stock of grains intelligently to prevent supply-demand mismatch. Managing food inflation should be its first priority. Food inflation is hovering above nine per cent and though the overall inflation rate has fallen, the RBI has warned that food prices still pose a risk. What should cause concern among policy makers is the increasingly erratic nature of monsoon. The surplus rain in September, for instance, has led to flash floods, disrupting the agriculture cycle.
With many experts predicting that erratic monsoons are here to stay, there is an urgent need for a relook at our approach towards water management. The Modi government has already demonstrated its seriousness by kick-starting an ambitious project linking 14 rivers from the Himalayas and 16 across the Indian peninsula. This will facilitate bringing water from areas with plentiful supplies to others afflicted by scarcity. This should be coupled with innovative and imaginative use of technology and research for conservation of groundwater and better crop planning. The Centre and states must join hands to ensure the benefits of research percolate down to farmers.