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No monsoon is perfect. Even in the best of years, there are patches that register deficient rainfall. During the current southwest monsoon season (June-September), India as a whole, so far, has received rainfall that is 3 per cent above the historical average or “normal” for this period. But the country’s southern tip — the old Mysore region (south interior Karnataka), Kerala and Tamil Nadu — has had roughly 25 per cent below-average rains. This comes on top of rainfall deficiency that amounted to over 35 per cent last year. Simply put, this contiguous belt has replaced Maharashtra as the new epicentre of drought, with back-to-back rainfall failures similar to what Marathwada experienced in 2014 and 2015 (thankfully not in 2016 and this year).
It’s unlikely the current drought in the peninsula would cause any food inflation that the RBI has to be worried about. Lower sugar, maize or jowar production in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will be more than made up by output rebound in other states, especially Maharashtra. The same goes for milk, where the big producing states — from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana to Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — have all recorded enough rain to ensure plentiful fodder and feed availability. But merely because the country’s overall agricultural production will not take a hit cannot be reason to ignore the crisis that’s bound to unfold in the deep south — it may be no less political, more so with assembly elections less than eight months away in Karnataka.
Last September saw a major stand-off when the Karnataka government, in deference to a Supreme Court order, was forced to release water from its reservoirs on the Cauvery river basin to the Mettur dam across the border in Tamil Nadu. It triggered violent protests by pro-Kannada groups who contended that there was hardly any water in the Krishna Raja Sagara and other Cauvery reservoirs to meet their own farmers’ irrigation needs. The reservoir levels now are lower than even last year’s. Fresh tensions could erupt in about a month from now, when farmers in Tamil Nadu’s delta districts start transplanting their main Samba paddy crop. This is precisely the time for the Centre to convene a meeting of the three states to initiate drought relief work in advance and also arrive at some understanding on sharing of waters, of the Cauvery or the Periyar. And the political parties concerned should refrain from fanning the fires of parochialism.