IMD plays down drought fears; water levels dip in Maharashtra's reservoirs

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The southwest monsoon is well on course to cover large parts of the country in the next few weeks. This should wipe away fears of widespread drought this year because El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) are still supportive of the rains, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Thursday.

However, water levels in reservoirs did not paint a flushed picture and, in fact, dipped further in Maharashtra, while remaining below normal in Andhra Pradesh.

“I cannot understand why there is fear of drought when the monsoons have not even covered the entire country. Just 10 days of good rains will wipe off the entire deficit,” K J Ramesh, director-general of IMD, told Business Standard.

Ramesh, who will demit office this year, said he is amazed by all the negative reportage on the performance of the southwest monsoon this year, while scientifically there is no evidence to support such hearsay.

“El Niño is in negative territory and no weather model — global or local — indicates any sign of its strengthening during the next two-three months, while the IOD — that could impact Indian monsoon — is in positive territory,” said Ramesh, adding he sees no cause for worry.

The progress of the southwest monsoon has been rather sluggish due to the impact of Cyclone Vayu.

The cumulative rainfall deficit as of June 20 is around 43 per cent less than normal. The rains, which ideally should have covered parts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, have barely managed to reach Maharashtra in the west coast on Thursday and crossed Bengal in the east coast.

“Farmers should start sowing as soon as their area gets a minimum 70 millimetres of rainfall, which will happen in most parts of the country in the next few weeks,” said Ramesh.

However, many don’t share Ramesh’s optimism.

Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, CARE Ratings, said the delayed start to the monsoon is a matter of concern, though it is too early to say how much it will impact sowing and the final yield of kharif crops. “The water level in reservoirs is also not up to the mark in several places, while pre-monsoon showers even lesser. Therefore, the timely arrival of the southwest monsoon was extremely crucial this year,” said Sabnavis.

The data sourced from the Ministry of Agriculture showed that till last week, kharif sowing was almost 9 per cent less than last year’s.  

Farmers have also delayed the sowing of cotton, soybean, and groundnut in central and western India due to the late arrival of monsoon.

The water level in 91 important reservoirs spread across the country is also a matter of grave concern. In Maharashtra, the water level in the reservoirs went down to 71 per cent below normal last week to 68 per cent this week. It remained 83 per cent below normal in Andhra Pradesh.

Overall, the water levels in 91 major reservoirs as of June 20 this year was 27.26 billion cubic metres (bcm), which is less than 29.69 bcm during the same period last year and lower than the 10-year average storage of 29.19 bcm.