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Rains may be below normal: minister

Children enjoy the waves lashing the seafront promenade during high tide in Mumbai yesterday. After a prolonged delay in the advent of the monsoons this year, the weather bureau has forecast monsoon activity to advance into Maharashtra state and Mumbai later this week
The government says monsoon could be below normal this year, heightening fears of lower agricultural output and more deaths due to extended heat wave
India’s monsoon rainfall, the main source of irrigation for the country’s 235mn farmers, may be below normal this year, denting prospects for bigger harvests of rice, oilseeds and sugar cane.
Showers in the June-September season will be 93% of the long-period average of 89cm, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan told reporters. In April officials had forecast rains to be near normal.
Rains have been behind schedule by more than two weeks this season, forcing farmers to defer sowing in the nation’s biggest growing areas of sugar cane and peanuts. Smaller harvests may undermine efforts by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to sustain the record 4.3% average growth in farm output since 2005, and dampen plans to assure food security to the poor.
Rains are crucial as more than half of the nation’s arable land is not irrigated. Sowing of crops including rice, oilseeds, cotton and corn begins in June and concludes by end of July.
Inadequate rains in July last year lowered cane yields in the western state of Maharashtra, the nation’s second-biggest producer of the crop, causing sugar output to halve and turning the country into a net importer of the sweetener for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
After the early onset of the monsoon on May 23, cyclone Aila disrupted the weather system between May 25 and June 6. Rainfall revived on June 21 after a two-week lull.
Still, its progress has been weak. The country got 39.5mm of rain in the June 1-17 period, 45% less than the 72.5mn average, according to the weather office.
The news is bad for Punjab and Haryana, which together account for over half the country’s annual food grain production, or Orissa, one of the major rice-growing states.
“The delayed monsoon and heat wave can damage the paddy crop,” said Punjab’s agriculture department director B S Sidhu.
“The lack of rains, heat wave and power crisis could pose a problem,” he said.
Temperatures this month have hovered above 40 degrees Celsius in both Punjab and Haryana.
Orissa has about 4mn hectares under paddy cultivation, but over 62% of the cropped area is rain-fed.
“We are advising farmers, particularly those who grow crops on non-irrigated and upland areas, to use short and medium duration paddy seeds,” Orissa’s agriculture and food production director Arabinda Kumar Padhee said.
“Crops are going to be affected because there is no rain,” said Jagdish Pradhan, convener of a farmers’ organisation in the eastern state.
Uttar Pradesh, too is reeling under an intense heat wave. The maximum temperature is hovering between 42-46 degrees Celsius in large swathes of the state.
“Paddy crop will be the worst hit. In Uttar Pradesh and most parts of India, farmers depend on the rain-fed traditional method for transplanting paddy crops,” K B Trivedi, an agricultural scientist, said.
Water supply has dried up in Madhya Pradesh, where a bucket of water is being sold for between Rs2 to Rs5, even though the government has introduced water rationing in 115 towns and cities.
People in the central state are taking their cue from the government, which has been performing several rituals in order to invoke the skies to let up.
In Andhra pradesh, sowing in the fertile Godavari delta, known as the rice bowl of the state, have been hit by the delay in rains.
In Jharkhand, where the temperatures are at an all-time high, the heat wave has claimed 17 lives.
Yesterday, the weather office said showers would cover entire Gujarat, India’s biggest cotton and peanut grower, in next 48 hours. Rains may reach Mumbai city, the nation’s financial capital, by today, it said.
Rains typically reach Mumbai by June 10 and cover Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh by June 15.
The weather agency uses experimental forecasts prepared by agencies including the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and the Centre for Mathematical Modelling & Computer Simulation, and inputs from agencies such as the US-based National Centers for Environmental Prediction and International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

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