Best monsoon in 5 years

[ FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2003 09:44 AM ]

With just about a week left for the current season to end, the southwest monsooncontinues to be active in many parts of the country, benefiting standing crops.

The kharif sowing season, too, is nearing its end. Though the final picture of crop planting is not yet available, data supplied by states indicate substantial expansion in the cropped area this season, compared with last year's drought-driven poor planting and long-period sowing trends.

The crop stand, too, is excellent in most areas, barring a handful of deficient rainfall pockets, notably in interior Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

According to the India Meteorological Department, monsoon precipitation between June 1 and September 17 was normal or excess in 33 of the 36 meteorological subdivisions.

This situation is deemed to be the best in the past five years.

Despite being in withdrawal, the monsoon brought heavy showers during the week ended September 17 in Goa, parts of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and the Northeast. Moderate rainfall was recorded in parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Karnataka.

However, 12 subdivisions received scanty rainfall during this week, largely because the monsoon has withdrawn from the northwestern region.

Thanks to the good rainfall, water storage in the 70 major reservoirs rose to 58per cent of the full capacity and 81 per cent of the last 10 years' average, against 11 per cent of the full capacity and 65 per cent of the last 10 years' average till June this year.

These reservoirs had 11 per cent more water on September 12, against last year.

While the sowing of most kharif crops is nearing completion, that of rice, the most important staple cereal, is still apace.

Till September 15, the crop had been planted over 34.9 million hectares, over 4 million hectares more than in the last season. About 86 per cent of the normal area under paddy had been seeded by the middle of this month.

The acreage under coarse cereals has risen more than 4 million hectares this season, from 18.5 million hectares last year to 22.6 million hectares till mid-September this year.

The bulk of this is accounted for by bajra, though jowar and maize have also gained in acreage.

The area planted with jowar is assessed at 4.2 million hectares, against 3.8 million hectares last year, while that with maize is about 6.9 million hectares, against 6 million hectares last year.

The area sown under bajra is estimated at 9 million hectares, against 6.6 million hectares last year.

Rajasthan, which has had an exceptionally good monsoon this year after a consistent poor performance in the last few years, is slated to bag a record bajra harvest of nearly 3 million tonnes this year.

On the request of the state government, the Centre has directed the Food Corporation of India to procure bajra in Rajasthan in the ensuing kharif marketing season to avert distress sale by growers.

Among oilseeds, soyabean has witnessed the maximum area expansion.

The crop is reported to have been planted over a record 6.9 million hectares this year, against 5.7 million hectares last year.

Groundnut acreage is said to be more or less the same as last year at 5.3 million hectares, though the crop condition is much better.

The total acreage under kharif oilseeds is around 15.2 million hectares, against13.6 million hectares last season.

Pulses, too, have gained substantially in acreage this season.

The area under these crops is estimated at 12.2 million hectares, over 2 millionhectares more than last year. Tur, the main kharif lentil, has been planted on about 3.7 million hectares, against 3.4 million hectares last year.



Only God Can Predict The Monsoon

[ SATURDAY, JUNE 21, 2003 12:02:51 AM ]
As the monsoon played truant two weeks ago, the media was up to an old, favourite pastime: Met-bashing. The post-facto scientific rationale advanced by weathermen for why the monsoon was delayed met with a knowing sneer: "Haven't we heard it all before?" It's great to be sceptical about science. Besides, as citizens of a free country, aren't we all entitled to a little bit of fun at the expense of a public institution? But much of the flak received by the Met is not just over the top, it betrays a shocking ignorance about the nature of science.

Fact is, meteorology can never achieve the kind of exactitude which is the hallmark of other sciences. The blame for this lies not with our weathermen but the nature of the object that they are obliged to study. In philosophy of science, there is an old distinction between open and closed systems. As the name suggests, a closed system involves a limited range of variables, each of which can be controlled or replicated in laboratory conditions. Much of ordinary physics is a good example of it.

An open system, on the other hand, deals with realities that are large and complex, and typically  involve a range of variables, none of which can be  isolated or controlled, much less recreated, in laboratories. The subject-matter of meteorology - continental weather systems - is an instance of the latter. Denied the benefit of real-time experiments, meteorology depends on modelling and computer simulation for its research.

A model, by definition, is not reality but an abstracted, simplified version of it. With increased scientific sophistication and greater computing power availability, Indian weathermen are all the time getting better. But they would have to be gods to get it right each time. Those who compare the record of the Indian Met with the western world are wrong too. Forecasting in India, by virtue of its location at the intersection of several weather systems, is infinitely more hazardous than in the West. So next time, if it does not rain, don't blame the weatherman but the complexity of his world and the limits of human knowledge.


Victim of First World Indifference

[ SATURDAY, JUNE 21, 2003 12:00:05 AM ]
What if the monsoon were an annual weather feature crucially affecting the American economy and its market? And the rise and fall of the mighty dollar linked to the monsoon's timely arrival in the same way as happens with the Sensex in India? Chances are that the Wall Street will every day open and close with a mandatory monsoon report.

A White House aspirant might even build his campaign on the benefits of better monsoon forecasting. In other words, the monsoon would be a global obsession rather than a yearly hit and miss ritual that affects a region that qualifies as the Third World.

Across the world, universities would be dedicated to its study and forecast. Met laboratories would spend unmentionable sums of money to produce super- computers that would factor in the multitudes of variables that currently make monsoon prediction such a frustrating task. Let's face it. The monsoon may be a more complex phenomenon than the weather patterns that bring rain and snow to the western world, but it is by no means unknowable.

When we tried to buy a supercomputer from the West which could have fine-tuned monsoon predictions, Washington stepped in to block it. Thanks to this obstruction, the Indian Met office has had to evolve its own models largely by trial and error. Our monsoon prediction may not be state-of-the-art yet, but surely, we are reaching there. A recent model developed by the Indian Met department in Delhi uses eight land, ocean and wind parameters and can make forecasts 40 days earlier than previously.

It also allows scientists to update their predictions halfway through the June-September monsoon season. Ultimately, monsoon prediction is about getting the correct parameters. Once this is mastered, it would be as easy to track and forecast the monsoon as it is to foretell the typhoons and hurricanes that sweep through America and Europe.

The Times of India, June 21, 2003

Over 200 feared killed in Himachal flash floods

[ WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2003 07:27:47 PM ]
In the worst-ever natural calamity of its kind in Himachal Pradesh, over 200 people, mostly migrant labourers from Bihar and Nepal, were fearedto have been swept away in a flash flood in the Gursa nullah on Wednesdaymorning following a cloudburst at Shilagarh, about 18 kms from Bhuntarairport in Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh.

Official sources said that the cloudburst occurred between 2.30 am and 3 am whenthe migrant labourers were sleeping in their make-shift hutments along the Gursanullah. The water level of the nullah rose alarmingly in no time washing away almost all the huts and their inmates, they added.

Though the exact figure were not available, the officials said around 250 peopl were sleeping in the hutments when the tragedy occurred. 22 people had been admitted to the zonal hospital for treatment.

Most of the victims were Bihari and Nepalese labourers employed by Satyam Construction Company and Bholanath JP Ltd working for Parbati hydel power project.

Official sources said that the 2100 MW Parbati project encompasses the Sainj, Manikaran and Gursa valleys, and though there have been seven or eight cloudbursts in the region over the past seven or eight years, this is the second in the Gursa valley. The first took place about five years back, but there was no loss of life, they added.

They said that some goat and sheep belonging to some gujjars had also been washed away in the floods. Two nearby villages Manihar and Najaam are safe.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said that senior district officers, as well as the fire department personnel had reached the site and were organising relief and rescue operations. "The ITBP battalion at Kullu, which has been given the task of 'first responder' for natural and man made disaster in Himalayan areas by the ministry of Home Affairs, and is equipped to carry out specialised search and rescue operations, has also been called to assist", he added.

He said that supplies of blankets, ration, clothes for coffin and other relief material had been sent to the calamity site. "I will be going to the site to personally supervise and monitor the rescue and relief operations", he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Kullu, R D Nazeem, Superintendent of Police and other officials have also rushed to the spot.

With overhead transmission lines destroyed in the cloud burst, all communicationlinks and power supply to area have been disrupted. A large number of trees havebeen uprooted and huge tracts of land have also been washed away in the flash flood.

The Times of India, July 16, 2003

Floods displace three million in Assam

[ SUNDAY, JULY 13, 2003 09:37:47 AM ]

More than three million people have been displaced in extensive flooding in Assam as soldiers continued to evacuate hundreds of marooned villagers.

"The Brahmaputra has breached its banks at several places overnight flooding hundreds of more villages and forcing thousands to move to safer areas," Assam Flood Control Minister Nurzamal Sarkar said.

"The situation is worsening by the hour with the river rising menacingly all along its course," he said.

At least 25 people have died in Assam due to floods. Two more people drowned in separate incidents overnight in Morigaon district, 80 km from here, when their wooden boats capsized.

The second wave of floods that began on June 27 has hit 20 of Assam's 24 districts.

A Central Water Commission bulletin said that the Brahmaputra and its tributaries were flowing above the danger level at various places.

The Brahmaputra is one of Asia's largest rivers, originating as the Tsangpo in Tibet, and flows for some 650 km across Assam before entering Bangladesh and terminating in the Bay of Bengal.

"We are in for more devastation with floods affecting fresh areas every day," Assam Revenue Minister Mithias Tudu said, adding "Army and civil workers were engaged in relief and rescue operations (across the state)."

"Two children and an elderly woman died of gastroenteritis in two villages of Dhemaji," a health official said.

An outbreak of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and other water-borne diseases in flood-hit areas in Assam have claimed at least 75 lives since the start of June.

People have complained of scanty relief supplies in hundreds of makeshift camps opened by the government.

"People would die of hunger and disease with no food and medical aid coming in from the authorities," said Dhritiman Saikia, a villager elder in Madarchinga, 50 km west of Guwahati.

"We have got nothing in the form of relief from the government since we left our homes four days back."

About 400,000 people were displaced in the first wave of floods in early June, but the waters later receded. People in hundreds took shelter in the hills and mountains, besides mud embankments to avoid the surging floodwaters.

"At least 300 families are taking shelter at the Dirgeswari hills after floodwaters submerged my village," said Tamizuddin Ali, a boatman who braved the high river current to reach Guwahati. Ali hails from village Mandakata, about 20 km from here.

The Times of India, July 13, 2003

Floods destroy the crop fields in Rajasthan

[ FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2003 01:20:57 AM ]

This time , it is floods not drought which have become a cause of worry for the farmers in Nagaur district in Rajasthan.

The Times of India, July 18, 2003