Pune Times, July 20, 2002

Dried-out Farm
By Dilip Rangachari

New Delhi: Officials of the Union agriculture ministry are getting increasingly worried at the prolonged absence of rain in many parts of the country.

“The monsoon began well, but now, barring the north-east, since around June 25, it has been very weak and there has been little progress”, says a worried Chittaranjan Hazra, agriculture commissioner. "The crucial period (for crops) is June 15 to July 15. Now, with every day's delay, the situation becomes more serious. If it is delayed by two more weeks, the situation will become very serious."

Hemendra Kumar, the ministry's special secretary, says this is unnecessarily gloomy. "The monsoon has been delayed only over the north-west (Punjab, Haryana and north Rajasthan). The average rainfall, if aggregated all over the country, is still 99 per cent of the long-term figure."

But he, too, agrees that if the heavens don't relent in the next two weeks, there is likely to be a problem. And relief measures to farmers - easier credit, new seeds, drought-relief - will have to be taken.

The current lack of rains comes on top of existing problems: many areas of Madhya Pradesh have been facing drought for at least three years. Rajasthan too has had a bad time in that period. So has Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab which continue to overdraw on underground water without enough recharge.

Many other states are restive: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are already complaining of drought problems in many parts while Tamil Nadu wants Cauvery water, which its neighbour, Karnataka, says it won't, or can't, give.

The Centre can give advice and be ready with technical help and, the cash-deficit treasury permitting, more money. But the action will have to be taken by state governments. The countdown, therefore, may begin in a fortnight if the picture remains the same.

Times of India, Pune, July 16, 2002.


Scanty rainfall in state hits kharif crop

TIMES NEWS NETWORK [ TUESDAY, JULY 09, 2002  11:28:20 PM ]

PUNE: The long dry spell in Pune, Solapur and Sangli districts has caused a serious concern among farmers as the delayed rains are likely to adversely affect the prospects of the kharif crop.

The situation is very grim in Solapur district where the rains have remained elusive for more than a week. The water level in most of the small and major dams in the district has also been a matter of concern for the district administration.

The catchment areas of the Ujani dam — the lifeline of the drought-prone Solapur district — has received only 137 mm of rainfall from June 7 to July 9. Solapur district collector V.B. Gopalreddy has admitted that the water level in the Ujani dam is far below satisfactory. In view of the present water storage in Ujani dam, the district administration has reserved 15 per cent of water storage to meet the water requirement of Solapur city.

The irrigation department will release some waters of the Ujani dam on July 16 in view of the Ashadi Ekadashi yatra at Pandharpur. This would further reduce the water level of the Ujani dam.

Rains have also eluded Sangli district for more than a week. Zilla Parishad officials have expressed the fear that kharif crops sown in at least 2.5 lakh hectares in the district may go waste if rains do not favour within the next few days.

Most parts of Satara and Ahmednagar districts have, however, received satisfactory rainfall. More than 50 per cent sowing operations have been completed in these two districts.


Drought only if no rains by July 31: Govt

PTI [ TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2002  9:52:39 PM ]

NEW DELHI: The government on Tuesday said that it would only declare drought if there are no rains till July 31 and there is still time for sowing for most crops other than oilseeds and coarse cereals.

Speaking to reporters after the annual general meeting of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh said "drought will be declared only after July 31" if the monsoon failed.

Earlier, during the meeting, he said that technically monsoon would be considered normal even if it arrived by July 31, but the forecast was made for the country as a whole and the government was prepared for inadequate distribution of rains and timing across the country.

It was for the states to declare a particular region as drought-affected after which payment of dues by the farmers would be put on hold and assistance given from the calamity relief fund, he said.

He said that states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had been worse-affected by delay in monsoon. Even if monsoon arrived now, it would be late to grow soyabean and bajra, he added.

These states have been asked to grow alternative crops like guar and moth for which the sowing time is a little later. There is still time to sow crops like paddy.

Even otherwise, arrangements are being made to ensure that there is no shortage of certified seeds, tubewells are repaired in time and power supply is adequate in rural areas to use irrigation facilities.

"However, Met officials told me that a low pressure area is building up in the coastal areas, which will result in rains in north India within five days, We are hoping for the best but are also prepared for any eventuality," he added.


Assam Floods

Times of India, Pune, July 24, 2002.


Drought Situation Serious

Times of India (Headlines), Pune, July 27, 2002.


Dry Facts

As the drought shadow lengthens over large parts of North and Central India the question troubling everyone is what caused the failure of the monsoons this year. Sonu Jain looks at some of the possible answers

FACT ONE: The monsoons have failed. Everyone agrees on this one. The country is on the verge of the worst-ever drought, since rainfall has been nearly 35 per cent less than normal.

FACT TWO: The Indian Meteorology Department has been proven horribly wrong: Earlier this year, it had announced to the world that India would have its 14th consecutive normal monsoon.

If the Met department is to be believed, these are the only facts that can be taken for granted; the rest is uncertainty.

So what makes the Indian monsoon so mysterious? Why can't the most advanced forecasting techniques predict the weather? So much so that when the monsoons decide to skip large swathes of the country, nobody really knows why?

That is not to imply our knowledge hasn't grown much from the time the phrase 'monsoon' was coined by Arab mariners in reference to the seasonal winds in the Indian Ocean. We know the monsoons are found in Australia and West Africa as well, though nowhere is it more dramatic or more vital to the economy.

We also know how the monsoons are supposed to work. Moisture-bearing winds are attracted to the summer-roasted Indian landmass from the cold Indian Ocean. Once the winds cross the equator, they turn in the South-Westerly direction and shed their load over the heated peninsula, bringing rain. So far, even a Class V geography student could tell you.

What happens after this, however, is more complex. The now-dry winds move to the Bay of Bengal, where a convection system - essentially a low pressure area spread over at least a five sq km area - forms, and pick up moisture again. Simultaneously, a monsoon trough, another large low pressure area extending from Rajasthan to West Bengal, forms over the landmass. Winds moving in a cyclonic motion over the Bay of Bengal are pulled towards this trough and turn eastwards, bringing rain to North and Central India.

So what went wrong this year? It's tough to pin-point an answer, since day-to-day variations do not give any clues to the larger seasonal picture. "In real time, it is not possible to arrive at conclusions," says K Rupa Kumar, scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Scientists call it 'a peculiar phenomenon', something which they have not seen in the past. "A break situation has occurred even before the monsoon could develop fully," says Rupa Kumar. The break normally happens after the monsoon is well in progress.

In layman's language, it means that the two low pressure areas over the Bay of Bengal and the Indian landmass weaken even before they begin to form. The result: drizzles, not deluges.

Theories abound over why this has happened:

1 El Niño

The correlation between the warm ocean currents off the South American coast and India is not very clear, but the El Niño may be responsible for the shift in the convection areas over the Bay of Bengal. Across the globe, the El Niño, and the consequent warming of the ocean currents, has affected ocean currents, leading to major shifts in weather patterns. Of late, a number of foreign agencies have issued advisories on the revival of the El Niño, but Rupa Kumar is reluctant to lay the blame of the monsoon failure at its door. "The impact of the El Niño was felt months after it was detected off the Peru coast. It's too early for it too impact us now," he says. As a result, the IMD did not include the El Niño as one of the parameters for the monsoon forecast.

2 Western Pacific systems

Remnants of atmospheric systems over the Western Pacific normally enter Bay of Bengal, strengthening existing systems. Possibly this did not happen this year as there was no Westerly movement. The absence of the outside-help factor is one the Met department is seriously exploring to explain the failure of the monsoons.

3 Global Warming

In spite of international reports and UN warnings, Indian scientists deny the role of global warming. "It can only be measured on a decadal scale, seasonal variations cannot be attributed to it," says Rupa Kumar. Also, scientists believe global warming would actually bolster the monsoon, not dry it up.

4 Low Pressure Trough

The vital monsoon trough over the Indian landmass never formed this year. Normally, this area floats over the subcontinent and dips into the Bay of Bengal, kickstarting the monsoon rains. Abnormal development of the south-bound track of the westerly system over Pakistan could have disrupted its formation. This is a likely reason for the failure of the monsoons.

5 Localised Patterns

The right quantums of moisture, temperature and solar radiation over the Bay of Bengal help the monsoon to develop. One disproportionate factor could have led to the dry monsoon phenomenon on the subcontinent.

Even as they study these possibilities, Met officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the monsoon will get revived by the middle of August. "As long as there are clouds over the Bay of Bengal, there is hope," says a Met scientist.

The Indian Express, August 4, 2002


It’s the Policy, Stupid

As far as the rains are concerned, it is already too little, too late. But one bad monsoon does not ruin the economy, bad policy does, says agriculture expert Yoginder K Alagh

Even if we eventually have what is euphemistically called a ‘normal monsoon’ this year substantial damage has already been done to the crops. The focus, then, should shift to helping those who have already suffered.

Arguably, given our experience and advances in science, we are definitely better placed to face adverse weather today than we were in 1987, the worst drought in the last one-and-a-half decade. No doubt, the RBI was quick to announce that the drought would not affect the growth rate. I agree, but with a caveat: provided proper policies are followed. It is not the failure of monsoon that leads to the failure of the economy. It is simply the pursuit of bad policies.

Unfortunately, the RBI has nothing to say on the damage caused by the drought. Does it have anything to say why good policies pursued in the past have suddenly been stopped? Not really. Consider the example of the Kapur Committee. It went into the details of cooperative credit (which still accounts for a large part of rural finance) that NABARD was associated in the early ’90s. It had experimented with loans for watershed development, rain harvesting and storage projects in arid agro-climatic regions. But the experiment was stopped mid-way, no reasons given.

States Total Districts Drought Affected
Uttar Pradesh
Haryana, Chandigarh
and Delhi
Madhya Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh 12 12

The Kapur Committee had suggested launching the cooperative credit plan once again and focused on how to become ‘drought proof friendly’. Rural credit availability and rescheduling of loans for crop failure was an essential part of drought-fighting strategies in the past. Credit reforms were without any re-payment waivers of the type witnessed in 1990-91. Such giveaways, however, broke the back of the rural credit system.

If the farmer is to plant again this year we need a functioning rural credit system. The emphasis should be on prevention not on cure. Under political pressure successive governments end up spending enormous amounts on relief. But reform of the lending systems to make them ‘drought proof friendly’ is never on the agenda.

Many of the obstacles to fighting adverse weather conditions lie outside the Agriculture Ministry. That is why success in fighting droughts is achieved only if co-ordinating mechanisms at the Cabinet and Committee of Secretaries level are set up, as in 1987.

In 1987, the Planning Commission, the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat succeeded because they coordinated wonderfully. Resources are available today. The problem is convergence.

What is to be done

• We must believe that fighting drought is good policy. Credit reform and better water policies are a must.
• A Crisis Management Group must arrange for agricultural inputs. We must involve the private sector particularly large corporates involved in input supply.
• Since the State no longer plays a significant role in seeds, pesticides and fertilisers supply it must co-ordinate with the corporates. Let us appeal to their corporate social responsibility.
• In the late ’80s, breeder support was provided to the agricultural universities. Let us repeat it for rabi and filler crops in the dry areas. By mid-August, a group with rudimentary skills in hydrology should be able to forecast the situation.
• Around 20 reservoirs may need emergency operating plans. Severe control on non-agricultural use and careful balancing of agricultural and drinking water needs will be required together with alternative ways to fund it.
• Fortunately, the Advanced Irrigation Benefit Programme has been in place for the last seven years. Moreover, the Budget had announced that it would be extended to distribution systems as well.
• As an emergency measure, the Tubewell Irrigation Programme implemented by the Government in the Eastern region should be extended to the drought-hit areas. This should be the year for a large number of small projects to conserve, store and distribute water.
• Rural women are adversely affected. An employment programme and the PDS for the really hungry is urgently needed. This must first involve women and women-headed households.
• Does the Indian economy have to fare poorly each time there is a monsoon failure? Given its size and depth it shouldn’t. What is important is pursuing good policies.

(The writer is a former minister of state for Planning & S&T)

The Indian Express, August 4, 2002


Monsoon Forecast

Times of India (Headlines), Pune, August 4, 2002.


India Today

India Today (Cover Story), August 12, 2002.


Mumbai Downpour

Times of India (Headlines), Pune, August 8, 2002.