India gears up to tackle below normal monsoon this year

Schoolchildren wade through a waterlogged road after heavy showers in Jorhat, Assam on Monday PTI

 As Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday made it clear the country is heading for a below normal monsoon this year, the government disclosed that it was making contingency plans to tackle the situation.

"The rainfall over the country as a whole for the 2014 southwest monsoon season (June to September) is likely to be below normal (90-96% of long period average). We're preparing accordingly, be it on crop, power, irrigation or other fronts," said union minister of state for earth sciences Jitendra Singh while releasing the second-stage long-range forecast for the 2014 southwest monsoon.

He added that monsoon for the country as a whole is likely to be 93% of the LPA. The forecast also said that rainfall is expected to be deficient in June and less than normal in July but August would see some recovery.

The government also admitted that there are high chances (70%) of the emergence of an El Nino weather formation. Earlier in the morning, president Pranab Mukherjee in his address to parliament had said that the government is "alert about the possibility of a subnormal monsoon this year and contingency plans are being prepared".

IMD also said that for farmer short-term forecasts are already made. The earth sciences minister added that the cabinet secretary's office was coordinating plans with the agriculture, water resources and power ministries to tackle the situation.

As far as region-wise prediction was concerned, IMD said season rainfall over north-west India is likely to be 85% of LPA, 94% over central India, 93% over south peninsula and 99% of LPA over north-east India.

It basically means that except for the northeast, every other part in India is predicted to get below normal rainfall this season. But the worst hit would be northwestern states which include Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Whenever rain is below 90% of the long period average, it is taken as deficient, 90% to below 96% is considered below normal, 96% to less than 104% is normal, 104 to 110% is above normal and over 110% is considered excess.

Monsoon rainfall in India is main source of irrigation for majority of India's farmers and a below normal monsoon could affect prospects of crops like rice and soybeans. A poor agriculture directly affects India's economy and thus Indian government doesn't want to take any chances.

"Out of the two things which the market is closely watching, one is budget and the other is monsoon," Anubhuti Sahay, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Mumbai.

"Foodgrains output may fall by at least 10% as major rice growing areas of the country in the northwest may get less rains," said Indranil Mukherjee, an analyst with Religare Commodities Ltd In New Delhi.
"Farmers will not go for early sowing which will impact yield of many crops. The latest forecast may increase prices of many commodities," he added.

Monsoon rainfall was the least in almost four decades in 2009, when El Nino occurred last, data show.