Optimism over a good southwest monsoon has strengthened, with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting rainfall for the country during the four-month season (June-September) at 103 per cent of the historical long period average, This is as against the 99 per cent projection in the IMD’s first forecast on April 14. Moreover, the probability of a below-normal/deficient monsoon — aggregate rainfall turning out less than 96 per cent of the historical average — has been scaled down from 40 per cent to 19 per cent in the agency’s forecast update issued on Tuesday. The sanguine prognosis is based on the ongoing La Niña conditions likely to continue in the upcoming monsoon months. La Nia, an abnormal cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean waters off South America that causes moisture-laden winds to move westwards towards Asia, is generally favorable for rains in India. That, coupled with sustained high summer temperatures over the Indian landmass necessary for formation of low-pressure systems, should translate into a “normal” monsoon this time.
There can be nothing better for the Indian economy today than a monsoon that is normal — not just overall, but also in terms of spatial and temporal distribution. This wasn’t the case last year, which saw a month-long dry spell from the second week of July and too much rain after late-August. La Nia’s arrival from October resulted in excess rain that extended beyond the monsoon season till January. In the event, the kharif crop suffered from rainfall deficit during the sowing/early vegetative growth stage and water-logging at harvesting time in October-November. La Nia, thus, did more damage than good last time. This year, its prevailing even before the monsoon’s start, and hopefully not further strengthening, should help deliver copious rains during the season, especially from mid-June through August. A bumper kharif crop is, indeed, required at a time when retail food inflation is ruling uncomfortably high, at 8.38 per cent year on year in April.
What should the Center do? In the immediate term, it must announce the minimum support prices (MSP) for kharif crops. The prospects of a good monsoon will definitely induce farmers to sow aggressively. They should be given the signals to plant the right crops — more oilsseeds, pulses, cotton and maize than water-guzzling paddy and sugarcane. While the market prices of the former are good enough, MSP assurance can push them further in the desired direction. Equally important is ensuring adequate and timely availability of seeds, fertilizers, crop protection chemicals, credit and other farm inputs. This calls for coordinated action between the Centre, state government and agri-input suppliers. A good monsoon should not become a squandered opportunity.