Updated: April 14, 2016 12:05:22 am
The India Meteorological Department’s first forecast, released on Tuesday, for the southwest monsoon season (June-September) has predicted that, after back-to-back “deficient” monsoons, India is likely to receive “above-normal” rainfall this year. According to the IMD, rainfall is likely to be 106 per cent of the long period average (LPA), which is 89 cm of rainfall, with an error range of 5 per cent. India’s agricultural growth has collapsed from 4.2 per cent in 2013-14 to minus 0.2 per cent in 2014-15 (with 88 per cent of LPA rainfall) and 1.1 per cent in 2015-16 (with 86 per cent of LPA rainfall). The forecast brings relief for Indian agriculture, and the overall economy.
The IMD gained credibility as a forecaster last year when it predicted a “below-normal” monsoon in its first-stage forecast on April 22, which it downgraded to “deficient” in an update on June 2. The department stood by its forecast even as private forecasters were predicting above-normal monsoons and the rainfall in June was actually 116 per cent of the LPA. As it turned out, the IMD’s forecast was accurate for the season as a whole. In the current moment, historical data supports the possibility of a good monsoon. In 71 per cent of the years that followed El Nino years (as is the case this year), the monsoon was either “normal” or “above-normal”. All indications are, therefore, that India can look forward to a turnaround in agricultural growth in the current fiscal — another trend that is backed by data. Between 1981-82 and 2015-16, agricultural growth was minus 2.1 per cent in El Nino years as against a period average of 3 per cent.
However, encouraging as this forecast is, there is no reason to give in to euphoria. For one, this is still a preliminary estimate — a more comprehensive estimate, detailing the distribution of rainfall, will be available later in June. Second, while El Nino has weakened, its impact could linger till the first half of the monsoon this year. This means that rainfall may well be above average on the whole but the rains may be delayed. This, in turn, would upset the cropping strategy of farmers. Under the circumstances, the government would do well to prepare for an above-normal monsoon. Farmers can be incentivised, for instance, to produce the crops most appropriate from the perspective of the domestic demand-supply scenario by carefully declaring minimum support prices. Steps can be taken to ensure that the extra rainfall leads to greater groundwater recharge. The government must also remember to prepare for possible floods — the flip-side of an above-average monsoon.
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