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Weather dept scales down monsoon forecast

India Meteorological Department (IMD), the government’s official weather forecaster on Monday said it expected monsoon rainfall this year to be 93 per cent of the 50-year average since 1950 (called long-period average, or LPA), against the 95 per cent it had projected earlier — both levels are considered sub-normal.

The forecast has a model error of plus or minus four per cent.

There were high chances of emergence of an El Niño weather formation, obstructing cloud formation, IMD said. The government, which has already said it is alert to the possibility of sub-normal rain, reiterated this on Monday in President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint session of Parliament.

According to the weather department, every other part of the country, except the Northeast, is likely to receive less rain than normal — the northwestern states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi and UP could be worst hit, getting rainfall at 85 per cent of LPA during the four-month monsoon season that starts in June. Paddy, sugarcane, pulses and coarse cereals are grown in these areas during this season. The only saving grace, though, is that much of the agricultural land in the northwest is irrigated, so the impact of a low rainfall level might be contained.

Rains in central India — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh — are expected to be 94 per cent of LPA. These states grow oilseeds, pulses, cotton, paddy and coarse cereals during the season. In southern parts of the country, rainfall could be 93 per cent of LPA. (The region-wise monsoon forecast has a model error of plus or minus eight per cent).

IMD’s second-stage forecast says rainfall will be deficient in June and less than normal in July  but there could be a slight recovery in August.

Rainfall under 90 per cent of LPA is seen as deficient, while that in the 90-96 per cent range is sub-normal, 96-104 per cent normal, 104-110 per cent above normal and beyond 110 per cent excessive.

“Till now, rainfall across the country is almost 44 per cent below normal and is expected to remain so in the current week. A pick-up will come from the middle of June. But it won’t be sufficient to wipe out the deficiency,” said IMD Director-General L S Rathore.

“As of now, it is difficult to judge the impact, but preparations should start in full earnest. There is a difference between meteorological drought and agriculture drought, so even if total rainfall is 10 per cent below normal or even distribution could minimise the adverse impact,” P K Joshi, director for South Asia in International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) told Business Standard.

Rain at 93 per cent of LPA for all of India comes to 82 cm in absolute terms. The 50-year average is 89 cm. IMD puts the chance of an El Niño development in this monsoon at 70 per cent.

El Niño is a band of warm ocean water temperatures that periodically develops off South America’s Pacific coast, causing disruption in rain globally. In the past 14 El Niño years, eight saw deficient rains across India, while four had rainfall below normal.

“We’re preparing accordingly, be it on crop, power, irrigation, or other fronts,” said Earth Sciences Minister Jitendra Singh.

For farmers, IMD said it would issue short-term forecasts to enable sowing decisions. Singh said the Cabinet secretary’s office was coordinating plans with the agriculture, water resources and power ministries.

Earlier in the day, listing the priorities of the Centre, President Pranab Mukherjee said: “The government is alert about the possibility of a sub-normal monsoon this year and contingency plans are being prepared.”

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