Around 235 districts across the country face the prospect of drought this year as the monsoon appears headed for a below-normal performance, with the season’s deficit currently at 6.2% of normal.
These districts, accounting for 37% of India’s 630 districts for which rain data is available, have monsoon shortfall of at least 20%, with nine show acute deficits of 60% or more, data from the India Meteorological Department reveals.
A majority of the distress districts lie in the hinterland, in a swathe running through Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha. UP, Haryana and MP are the hardest hit states, showing rain deficits of 31%, 28% and 25%, respectively.
The deficits have grown gradually since the end of July, when the monsoon started failing in central and north India. The first two months of the season, June and July, ended with a countrywide rain surplus of 2.5%. Monsoon’s performance since August 1 has been a dismal 17% below normal (till September 12), with good rainfall being mainly restricted to south and northeast India.
“A number of factors worked against the monsoon since July-end. There have hardly been low-pressure circulations since then and conditions in the Indian and Pacific oceans have been unfavourable,” said D Sivananda Pai, head of IMD’s long range monsoon forecasts.
IMD had forecast normal monsoon this year at 96% of the long period average, which it updated to 98% in June.
Poor distribution of rainfall has added to the distress. As many as 110 districts have had excess or ‘large excess’ (over 60% of normal) rainfall. In addition, heavy rain spells in Gujarat, Rajasthan and catchment areas in the Himalayas (particularly in Nepal) caused the worst floods in the country in 10 years.
Ironically, states such as UP have seen both flood fury as well as the prospect of drought. The monsoon deficit in west UP stands at 37%, highest for any subdivision in the country. Of the state’s 72 districts, rainfall has been deficient in 48. Out of these, five districts — Agra, Hamirpur, Mahamayanagar, Amethi and Kushinagar — face acute shortfall of 60% or more.
This combination of poor rains and floods is likely to hit kharif output, although data till September 8 reveals that the sowing area this year is only marginally less than last year’s, with the biggest drops seen in oilseeds, pulses and jute. Several state governments have reportedly started drought exercises.
Poor rains have also affected water storage levels, important for winter crops. According to the Central Water Commission data, live storage at 91 important reservoirs in the country was at 58% of capacity on September 8, the lowest in five years for which data was available. It was lower than the corresponding period during the drought years of 2014 (74%) and 2015 (59%), and significantly below the 10-year average of 69%.
IMD believes the second half of September could bring better rains in central India. “While the situation in northwest is not likely to change too much, there are indications that central India may get some rain in the next couple of weeks. Monsoon isn’t likely to start withdrawing in the next few days,” Pai said.