Rain during the southwest monsoon this year has ended with a shortfall of 9.4 per cent of the average, which, in the normal course, could have been enough reason to declare 2018 a “drought-” or “deficient-rainfall” year.
However, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has stopped using the word “drought” since 2015 and now classifies a year in which cumulative rain is 10 per cent less than the Long Period Average as a “deficient-monsoon” year.
This year is different in many ways. Though overall rains have been over 9 per cent below normal, it hasn’t led to a sharp drop in the area under kharif crops. And, if the government’s first advance estimate, released a few weeks ago, is to be believed, production this kharif season is expected to go up to an all-time high of more than 141 million tonnes.
The water content in 91 major reservoirs in the country is also at a healthy 122.51 billion cubic metres, 117 per cent of last year’s storage and 105 per cent of the last 10 years’ average.
The acreage of kharif crops, another big parameter to measure the performance of southwest monsoon, was 105.23 million hectares, less than 2 per cent lower than the area covered last year, a record acreage year, and almost 99.3 per cent of the normal area under kharif crops.
The cumulative rainfall shortage does not reflect the ground situation, which has made policymakers take notice. A big reason for the shortfall is that there has been less precipitation in northeastern parts of the country, where the normal is usually higher than the rest of India.
Most districts that received deficient rain were in UP (27), Bihar (27), Tamil Nadu (20), Gujarat (19), Karnataka (16). Several districts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are facing drought-like conditions and if it does not rain sufficiently during winter, they could face severe water stress.
Note: Rainfall figures are based on operation data (Source: IMD)
Some experts point to the growing irrelevance of the monsoon in the farmers’ scheme of things and give the example of Madhya Pradesh, where farmers planted more soybean than pulses in search of better prices, showing that return on investment is becoming a dominant factor influencing farmers’ choice of crops.
“Farmers in many areas might have gone for sowing kharif crops on the basis of the optimum moisture level in the soil rather than the amount of rainfall, which is also a learning experience for us,” IMD Director General K J Ramesh told Business Standard.
He said the real-time mapping of soil moisture, done by the IMD in association with several agencies, showed in eastern India, where the cumulative rainfall deficiency was more than 20 per cent, the moisture level in the soil was adequate or optimum.
“This means the rainfall these parts received, even if it was delayed by more than 20 days, has been good enough for farmers,” Ramesh said.
“We should look more at the ground to do a fair assessment of the monsoon and its impact,” he added.
The IMD, along with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), is planning to look at this new facet of monsoon analysis and could map soil moisture at the district level.
The data showed till September 26, of the 662 districts, 38 per cent received below normal rain while the rest received normal or excess.
There is not a single district that stayed rainless, the IMD data showed.
“The drought measurement matrix in these parts isn’t looking very good and the government is closely watching the situation,” a senior official said.
The Karnataka government has declared drought in 23 districts of the state.