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Drought stares at 38 districts

With the southwest monsoon’s progress a worry, the Union department of agriculture is keeping a close watch on 38 districts across the country where the rainfall condition till June has been alarming and chances of drought are the highest.

The assessment is based on rainfall in June and the first few days of July. Of the 38 districts, half are in Maharashtra, nine in Madhya Pradesh and two in Uttar Pradesh.

Of 411 districts where farming takes place during the kharif season, 282 are on the watch list of the government due to poor rains in June and early July. The situation is normal in 91 districts.

As of last Friday, kharif crops were sown in 18.24 million hectares, 43 per cent less than last year and 23 per cent less than the normal area.

The area under paddy, the main foodgrain during kharif, and coarse cereals were at five-year lows of 4.51 mha and 0.17 mha, respectively.

“India Meteorological Department (IMD) has assured us the situation will improve from July 11 and rainfall will revive across central and western India. Till that happens, we are keeping our fingers crossed,” an official said.

He added the biggest impact of the less than normal rain could be felt in Gujarat, Rajasthan and major parts of Maharashtra. “For Gujarat, there could be respite if it rains in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as that rejuvenates the Narmada basin. This is not the case with Rajasthan and Maharashtra,” he said.

He added July was the most important month for sowing, as it gets the largest amount of rain during the four-month monsoon. So, a clearer picture would emerge after the middle of the month.

IMD’s second stage forecast, issued in June, scaled down the rainfall estimate 93 per cent of the Long Period Average from 95 per cent in August, both below normal. Actual rainfall from June 1 to July 6 had been 43 per cent below normal, among the worst in recent years, it said.

Private weather forecasting agency Skymet had last week lowered its forecast for the monsoon rain to 91 per cent of average rainfall of the past 50 years; its earlier projection was 94 per cent. And, raised the probability of drought across the country to 60 per cent, as against its earlier estimation of 25 per cent. A meteorological drought is declared if 20-40 per cent of the country receives less than normal rains.

“The worst chance of drought is expected in northwest India at 80 per cent, followed by central India at 75 per cent and the south at 50 per cent,” Skymet said.

The patchy progress of the monsoon is also having its impact on the water levels in 85 important reservoirs. Till July 3, water levels in the storages were 36.87 billion cubic metres, 24 per cent of full capacity. Water in most reservoirs across the western, central and southern parts was below last year’s level.

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