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Jul 24, 2012 at 01:42pm IST

Monsoon failing, Government says it can tackle drought

New Delhi: With deficient monsoon rains throughout the country so far, experts have now warned that the drought situation can no longer be ignored and that it is the time to act. Food Minister KV Thomas admitted on Tuesday that the situation is worrisome and that the government will have to take measures to check hoarding as deficient rainfall will lead to crop failure.

Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) Chairman Ashok Gulati said, "The time for wait is over, a contingency plan should kick in. The issue as it stands today is very close to a drought situation."

Gulati said the contingency plan should have been implemented earlier and that areas having irrigation should be given electricity. "The worst affected states are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, parts of western Madhya Pradesh. Punjab has irrigation. If you give them electricity, the crop could be saved," he said.

Gulati also pointed out that the situation won't improve much even if it rains now. "A 22 per cent deficit is an average. If you have one foot in the snow and the other in the fire and you say your average temperature is fine, both your legs will be gone. That is the story today. In the eastern belt you have reasonably good rainfall. Some areas are flooded. Western India is reeling under 30 to 50 per cent deficit. It is a drought in western India. Even if it rains, we have already lost time," he said.

As experts rang the warning bell, the government has said it can wait for a few more days and was ready to deal with the situation.

"As on today there is a deficit of 23 per cent in the monsoon rains. It is very bad in Karnataka, parts of Maharashtra, parts of Rajasthan. Andhra Pradesh has improved," Food Minister Thomas said.

While Thomas admitted that the situation was worrying, it said that the government was taking steps to deal with it with a contingency plan in place. "There is a plan to distribute pulses to the Below Poverty Line at a subsidy of Rs 20. If there will hoarding, we are alerting the government, we will bring the stock holding limits," Thomas said.

Monsoon expectations cut to below average:

The government had on Monday said that the monsoon rains are expected to be below average. The government turned to contingency plans as rainfall has been about a fifth below normal so far and recent rains have not been enough to ease concerns.

The monsoon lost momentum last week, falling 22 per cent short of averages and raising the risk of a drought year in one of the world's leading producers of grains and sugar just as global prices hit record highs and domestic food prices soar.

The government scaled down the weather office's latest forecast of rains at 96 per cent of a 50-year average towards 92 per cent of the average.

"The progress of the monsoon so far has not allayed earlier concerns," the statement from the Prime Minister's Office said. "The intensity and spread of rainfall over the next week or so needs to be watched carefully," it added.

Distribution is key and poor rains have slowed the speed of planting crops such as rice, cereals, pulses and oilseeds including soybean, but areas under cane, mainly grown in irrigated regions, have been higher than in the previous year.

Monsoon rains irrigate 55 per cent of India's farmlands. The four-month season accounts for 75 per cent of the country's annual rainfall and half of that is usually delivered in June and July.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has already hinted at a cut in output of rice, which accounts for 70 per cent of the total summer crop, and also described the monsoon as "playing hide-and-seek".

"Rains are expected to improve over central India this week, but don't expect the improvement to completely wipe out the deficiency in rainfall so far," said SC Bhan, a director at India's weather office.

"We don't expect any dry phase in monsoon this week," he added.

The government is taking emergency steps under contingency plans which would provide for supplies of high-yielding seed varieties, ensure fodder availability and increased power supplies in some areas.

Drinking water will take priority over irrigation where necessary from reservoirs, the statement said, although reserves should be replenished after recent heavy showers in the foothills of the Himalayas, the north-east and parts of south India.

Rainfall between 90-96 per cent of the long-term average is considered to be "below normal", according to the classification of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

Rains less than 90 per cent would be considered a drought, last seen in 2009 when India had to import sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs.

(With additional information from Reuters)

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