An advancing southwest monsoon brought rain over all of north India over Sunday night and Monday, providing relief to the government, which is beginning to worry over the 16 per cent rainfall deficit in June. However, though the monsoon has officially been declared to have set in over most of the country barring some isolated pockets like western Rajasthan, the first signs are emerging that the situation regarding rainfall might not be as comfortable as was predicted.
Nothing dries up India's economic prospects more than the absence of summer rainclouds. The India Meteorological Department has predicted that the overall rainfall in the country over the four-month monsoon season was likely to be 102 per cent of the long-period average. But the behaviour of the monsoon in the first month, and continuing into July, has been highly erratic and the overall rainfall has been deficient by 14-16 per cent.
''The monsoons have now covered all of India except some parts of western Rajasthan,'' an India Meterological Department (IMD) spokesperson said on Monday. But the slow progress of the monsoon to the northern grain bowl had caused concerns in the government, already on the defensive because of the persistently high food inflation and the recent fuel price hike. In some key crop-producing areas, like the central region where most of India's oilseeds and lentils are grown, rains were 26 per cent below the average in June.
Crop planting suffered last month as rainfall was below normal. But the met department said the delay was not worrisome. ''In terms of sowing of kharif crops, this is not considered worrisome. If the rains keep normal pace in terms of total quantum in the crucial sowing month of July and the rest of the monsoon season, we don't foresee any problem, agriculturally speaking,'' the met spokesperson said.
Timing is also crucial. The meteorological department expects the monsoon to build up and rains to be heaviest in September. But for crops sown in June and July, that could have a damaging effect. In the northern province of Uttar Pradesh, the second-largest sugar producer in the country, sugar output is already expected to fall short of earlier estimates by 5 per cent because of the delayed showers.
Large parts of northern India, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi, have not got more than a drizzle and the latest predictions from climate models suggest that this situation is unlikely to change for another eight or 10 days. Good rainfall in these areas can be expected only around the middle of this month, weather scientists said.