Monsoon wreaks havoc; erratic rain may impact 2-mn hectare crop area

Infamous for its vagaries, the southwest monsoon has created two contrasting water situations causing distress in several parts of the country. In the first two months of its four-month of journey, the monsoon has brought in surplus rains in some parts and scanty showers in some others.

The rains have wreaked havoc in parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam leading to loss of life, property and standing crops. At the same time, parts of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have inadequate rains, aggravating already prevailing drought-like conditions.

Data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed that from June 1 to July 27, the southwest monsoon was over 62 per cent surplus in most of Gujarat on an average, almost 55 per cent surplus over in Rajasthan, 5 per cent excess in West Bengal, while it was 20 per cent deficient over Karnataka, 19 per cent short in Tamil Nadu and 28 per cent less in Kerala.

Ironically, it is 10 per cent deficient in Assam during this period, but the state saw its several parts inundated with floods. This is because even normal rains can cause floods in the state, as the quantum of rainfall is very high in those parts.

While in Tamil Nadu, the Northeastern rains which start from October and provide almost half of the state's total precipitation hold some hope, in other southern states; the poor monsoon performance has worsened the existing drought situation.

In many places farmers have delayed sowing their crops. In others, their crops have been washed away. In Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal, met department officials are advising farmers to go for sowing again quickly in areas where standing crops are damaged or else the last window of getting some harvest will end.

"We are advising farmers to go for re-sowing of crops in those areas where fields have been inundated for long in Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal, but this needs to be done quickly," Dr K K Singh, head Agromet at IMD said.

Standing crop in around 2.23 million hectares of land might be impacted due to floods and drought in the affected areas.
Even then, agriculture production may not be much affected, say experts.

"As of now Gujarat seems to the worst impacted due to floods, while Tamil Nadu with drought. The impact on agriculture would be known only after a proper assessment, but preliminary indications show that overall agriculture output might not go down by much," P.K. Joshi, South-Asia Director of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) told Business Standard.

Also, in many areas crops might be in early stage of maturity where damage could be limited, while in Tamil Nadu, sowing of rice could get delayed due to water shortage, Joshi observes.

Torrential rains and flooding, especially in northern parts of Gujarat and Saurashtra, have resulted in at least 30 per cent loss of kharif sowing across crops such as cotton, groundnut, castor, pulses, guar and cereals. The state government has sought additional support from the Centre.

After northern and western regions like Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Saurashtra getting over 70-80 per cent of the average rainfall, Thursday saw heavy rains lashing Ahmedabad which received over 100 mm within 6-8 hours.

Already, estimates hint at 30 per cent of kharif sowing in Gujarat being lost on an area of over 50000 hectares across the state.

According to government data, Gujarat saw kharif sowing on 6.06 million hectares till date, which was 70 per cent of last year's 8.57 million hectares.

Of these, major crops such as cotton and groundnut have seen sown on 2.50 million hectares and 1.4 million hectares, respectively.

However, the good sowing this year might have been washed away by the excess rain, said government officials and traders.

Till few weeks back, cereals have been sown on 720,000 hectares, pulses 382,000 hectares, soybeans 106,300 hectares, guarseeds 83,000 hectares and castor 54,000 hectares, according to the state agriculture department.

Traders have estimated that at least standing crop on around 50,000 hectares might have been damaged in the recent rains, though a complete assessment would happen only once the water begins to recede.

The Gujarat government has initiated an assessment of the farm loss situation in the state, even as a team from the Centre is expected to arrive soon for its own assessment.

At a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the state government had decided to initiate such an assessment after water recedes in flooded areas.

So far, till July 27 the state has received 532.5 mm of rains this monsoon which is 62 per cent more than the average rainfall of 329.5 mm mainly due to formation of back-to-back low pressure areas.

According to the state government's water supply department, the excess rainfall has filed around 32 water reservoirs and 11 dams.

As many as 8-10 more teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from Delhi, Chennai and Bhubaneswar are being sought by the Gujarat government.

According to Nitin Patel, deputy chief minister, Gujarat government, eight more teams of NDRF are expected to join rescue work apart from 10 existing NDRF teams, six Army columns and 11 SDRF teams, among other agencies.

So far, over 55,000 people have been rescued and evacuated to safe places across the state, even as the state government has estimated a rain-related death toll to be at over 110.

Meanwhile, union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh will visit the flood effected districts of Gujarat on Saturday to assess the damage to standing crop.

Although the West Bengal government hasn't declared flood, heavy monsoon and heavy amount of water release by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) has resulted in a near flood-like situation in the state. Sources estimated that at least 10 per cent of the annual paddy cultivation will be hit this year and farmers who have already sown seeds will have to double their allocation. Typically, Rs. 20,000 is needed to plant seeds in an acre.

Also, excess water will affect 80 per cent of vegetable production this season. In contrast the situation in down south is absolutely different.

Tamil Nadu, S Ranganathan, secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association said that the Cauvery Delta, which is around 1.6 million acres across various districts has been facing the drought since 2015 itself, though the farmers were able to get the good yield during 2015 due to proper planning.

Last year, the Kurvai and Samba, the two seasons of paddy crops were lost and this year Kurvai has been affected completely.
Given the current situation, the cultivation during Samba, which is the main season starting from September, is also expected to be affected since the farmers are not able to make the preparatory works in advance due to acute water shortage in Tamil Nadu.

P R Pandian, president of All Farmers Associations' Coordination Committee has said that the loss due to non-cultivation owing to the drought might have hit a Rs 1 lakh crore figure.

The farmers in the State have around Rs 6,850 crore of the loan with the nationalised banks and around Rs 3,000 crore of the loan with the co-operative banks. This is apart from the loan waiver the government has announced earlier this year, from the Co-operative Banks.

The Nationalized Banks have stopped disbursing loans to the farmers, claiming that they don't have the eligibility to avail loan, he alleged.

The Tamil Nadu government has informed the Central government that the state may not be able to waive off the farm loans considering the decline in the State's Own Tax Revenue due to the ban on liqour sales in 500 meters area of State and National High Ways, among others.

"Loan waivers are just temporary relief and what the farmers need is water for their crops. We need to get water from Cauvery river from Karnataka and from Mullaiperiyar dam, in Kerala, which can help us to continue cultivation," Pandian said.

He said that of the 1.6 million hectare of delta region, where paddy and sugar cane are cultivated is lying dry.

The depleting ground water level is affecting both the cultivation and also the availability of drinking water, he added.

Kerala, the spices bowl of India, had already been reeling under its worst drought in last 115 years. With the southwest monsoon so far poor in 2016, the situation on ground has gone from bad to worse.

It began with a deficient southwest monsoon during the four months from June 1 to September 30.

All the 14 districts received below average rain - the deficit ranged from 24 per cent in Ernakulam district to 59 per cent in Wayanad district.

Thereafter, northeast monsoon between October 1 and December 1 in 2016 also failed to bring cheer as the state recorded a rainfall deficit of 67 per cent.

Altogether, the state got 185 mm of rainfall in last two seasons which is just 33 per cent of the normal rainfall of 480.7 mm, or in other words, more than 70 per cent below normal.

According to the State Revenue Department, the back-to-back droughts have destroyed 30,353 hectares of agricultural land, including 26,400 hectares of paddy crops.

The total loss was estimated to be around Rs 225 crore.

The state government had issued a moratorium on agricultural loans taken by farmers, sought central government assistance for drought relief, and set up water kiosks to ensure uninterrupted drinking water supply.

Kerala revenue minister E. Chandrasekharan, during the budget session of the assembly recently said that the state is facing the worst-ever drought situation in the past 100 years.

"Apart from a huge loss in agriculture, there were costs in terms of water supply and others. We have estimated the loss to the tune of close to Rs 1,000 crore and we are asking assistance from the centre," said the Minister.

V S Sunil Kumar, Minister for Agriculture, Kerala said, "Around 30,000 hectre of crops has been affected so far and we are afraid more losses will be there if the water scarcity continues."

Around 2 lakh farmers has been affected so far and the government has increased the crop insurance in order to compensate them.

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