Drought shadow looms over deep south

In 2016, south interior Karnataka recorded 22 per cent deficit rainfall during the southwest monsoon season (June-September). Reservoir levels in the Cauvery basin have fallen lower with back-to-back monsoon failure and Karnataka is headed to Assembly elections in barely eight months.

Written by Harish Damodaran , Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | Updated: July 20, 2017 7:36 am
 drought, drought in south india, tamil nadu, kerala, karnataka, inadequate rainfall, monsoon, rainfall deficit, india news, indian express Among the crops that could be hit are sugarcane (both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) and maize (Haveri, Davangere, Chitradurga and Bellary districts are major producers). (Express Archive)

If Maharashtra, particularly Marathwada, was the epicentre of drought in 2014 and 2015, that has now seemingly shifted deep southward to a stretch covering the old Mysore region and coastal Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

In 2016, south interior Karnataka recorded 22 per cent deficit rainfall during the southwest monsoon season (June-September), while it was minus 21 per cent for coastal Karnataka, minus 34 per cent for Kerala and 20 per cent for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The numbers were even worse — at minus 70, minus 63 and minus 62 per cent each, respectively for the four meteorological subdivisions — for the northeast or ‘retreating’ monsoon (October-December), which brings significant amount of rain, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

A repeat scenario looks to be unfolding this year as well. While India as a whole has received an average area-weighted rainfall of 343.4 mm during the current monsoon season until July 19, one per cent more than the historic ‘normal’ of 338.4 mm for this period, rain has so far been below-normal in south interior Karnataka (minus 33 per cent), coastal Karnataka (minus 11 per cent), Kerala (minus 24 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (minus 19 per cent).

The result can be seen in water levels in the dams. The four major reservoirs of the Cauvery basin in Karnataka — Krishna Raja Sagara or KRS in Mandya district, Hemavathy (Hassan), Kabini (Mysore) and Harangi (Kodagu) — currently have less water than they had at this time in 2016.

Last year, the Karnataka government was forced to release water from the KRS and Kabini reservoirs to the Mettur dam across the border in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district, following a Supreme Court directive. It triggered violent protests in Mysore and Mandya, spilling over to even Bengaluru. Traffic along the Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway came to halt as vehicles with Tamil Nadu registration plates were burnt by pro-Kannada groups who also targeted Tamilian-owned shops and eateries.

This year too, there’s great worry. Reservoir levels in the Cauvery basin have fallen lower with back-to-back monsoon failure and Karnataka is headed to Assembly elections in barely eight months. Political temperatures have already been raised, with pro-Kannada groups demanding removal of Hindi signage in all Bangalore Metro stations and the Siddaramaiah-headed Congress government constituting a committee to examine whether Karnataka could have a separate flag for the state.

If this were not all, the rainfall forecast for the next one week at least is not very optimistic. “There is possibility of some scattered rainfall in south interior Karnataka and Kerala over the coming two days, but it will not be enough to compensate for the current deficit in this area,” said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, head of services at the India Meteorological Department.

The reservoir position is equally, if not more, precarious in Tamil Nadu’s main dams — Mettur, Bhavanisagar (Erode), Vaigai (Theni) or Aliyar and Sholayar in Coimbatore district. The rain hasn’t been good in either the Nilgiri (the catchment area for Bhavanisagar) or Anaimalai hills (for Aliyar and Sholayar) of the Western Ghats.

While Mettur gets water from the KRS and Kabini, the latter’s catchment is mainly in Kerala’s Wayanad district. Similarly, the Mullaperiyar dam in Idukki (Kerala) irrigates Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts of southern Tamil Nadu, with its waters also feeding the Vaigai dam in Theni. The same goes for the Parambikulam dam, which, while located in Kerala’s Palakkad district, largely caters to the Coimbatore-Erode belt in western Tamil Nadu. The Parambikulam and Mullaperiyar dams are both, in fact, owned, operated and maintained by the Tamil Nadu government — thereby also lending themselves to inter-state disputes with Kerala.

What this also means is that the rain failing in one part could impact water levels in dams and reservoirs elsewhere. The effects are cumulative when the monsoon turns out bad in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and southern as well coastal Karnataka — that too, for a second successive year.

“I haven’t seen anything like this. Sadly, it is not receiving adequate attention from the powers-that-be. Even the protests by Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi do not reflect the real intensity of the crisis,” said M Manickam, chairman of the Coimbatore-based Sakthi Sugars Limited.

Among the crops that could be hit are sugarcane (both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) and maize (Haveri, Davangere, Chitradurga and Bellary districts are major producers). Milk output could also suffer; the bulk of procurement by cooperatives in Karnataka is from the Mysore-Mandya-Bangalore-Kolar belt. Dairies in Tamil Nadu, too, are reporting near-flat procurement, with farmers struggling to arrange both fodder and water for their animals.

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