Jaipal Reddy promises good monsoon; farmers hope and pray

Allaying fears of a fourth straight year of poor rainfall, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted a ''normal'' monsoon this year with 98 per cent of the long-term average.

"I've very good news for farmers as well as others – the southwest monsoon is likely to be normal this year," union minister S Jaipal Reddy told a news conference in New Delhi.

Reddy is generally known as the rural development minister, but he also holds the earth sciences and science & technology portfolios.

He said there was 46 per cent probability of a normal monsoon as against 27 per cent probability of below-normal rains this season.

This is the fourth straight year that the government has forecast a normal monsoon. The IMD has already proved wrong the last three years; and in any case its countywide 'comfort' stats are hardly useful to farmers who need more localised forecasts.

This time around however there are firmer grounds than IMD forecasts for Reddy's optimism, as international weathermen agree that this year could see bumper grain supplies that would further swell the already unmanageable grain stockpiles and hold down world food prices.

"Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall is likely to be 98 per cent of the long period average (LPA) with a model error of five per cent," Reddy said.

The El Nino factor is neutral and "not going to have an adverse effect on the monsoon's circulation," director general of the IMD L S Rathore said.

On large areas of the country already struggling with water starvation, Rathore said though they were not talking about the regional aspects of rainfall distribution as of now, "we are hopeful that monsoon is going to be normal over those parts of India".

Food Minister K V Thomas said earlier today that the southwest monsoon is expected to be "satisfactory", except in the southern tip of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The summer monsoon is vital for the 55 per cent of the country's agricultural land that lacks irrigation. The rains can make the difference between India being an exporter or importer of staples such as rice and sugar.

The IMD will release its pre-monsoon calculation on the probable arrival date on 15 May as usual, Rathore said. A further forecast will be released in early June.

Agriculture accounts for 15 per cent of India's GDP and employs over 60 per cent of the population; yet it receives the least attention from Indian planners and growth figures are consistently poor even as farmers commit suicide rather than face starvation.