Dry spell all over
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Tamil Nadu-Blow to rice bowl
Sown in June, reaped in September, the kuruvai or the short paddy crop is timed just before the destructive northeast monsoon and feeds on the sporadic rains brought in by the southwest monsoon, and on groundwater thereafter. If the weather is conducive, this crop promises the best yield.
This time, everything has gone wrong. Though the primary rainy season here is the northeast monsoon during October to December, the irrigation needs in the Cauvery delta in central Tamil Nadu is met by water from the river, which in turn is dependent on the southwest monsoon in Karnataka. The water from Karnataka is stored in the Mettur dam, which is released for irrigation.
The schedule gone haywire has hit farmers across the delta in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and neighbouring districts, the rice bowl of the state. As per the verdict given by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the state is to receive over 36,000mn cubic feet as its share for the seven weeks from June, but it has got less than a tenth of this. State authorities cite the distress sharing formula evolved by the Central Water Commission and contend that Karnataka, despite its own struggles, should have shared water with Tamil Nadu "in a more equitable manner".
The Mettur dam is now at about one-third of its capacity. Other reservoirs are similarly short.
The delta accounts for 40 per cent of the state's paddy cultivation. Paddy cultivation is taken up on an average 3.20 lakh acres during the kuruvai season when the yield is good. Farmers in many districts in south Tamil Nadu, too, cultivate during this period. This season, there has been little water from the Mettur and rainfall has been abysmally low in most districts.
A committee headed by the chief minister had decided to supply three-phase power for 12 hours to 80,000 pumpsets for drawing underground water. The government has released Rs 125 crore to the state power utility to purchase electricity. It is also banking on technology such as sophisticated seed sowing machines, different techniques of cultivation and also alternative, short-term crops, besides taking legal measures to get its share of water from Karnataka.
"This being the last week of July, we should put the disappointment over kuruvai behind us and instead focus on the samba (rabi) season. There is an element of risk but it proved good for us back in 1987 when the state faced a crisis," said S Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association.
During the period June 1 to July 22, Karnataka had 244mm rainfall, 38 per cent below the normal 393mm. Of 747 hoblis or village agglomerations, 155 have had four or more consecutive weeks of dry spells. As per the Agriculture Commission, an area is considered drought-affected if its rainfall is less than 50 per cent of normal for more than four consecutive weeks during the cropping period.
Of Karnataka's 30 districts, 24 have had a rainfall deficit, five have had normal and only one has had excess. Of the 176 talukas, 113 are rainfall-deficit, according to data from the drought monitoring cell. The government has declared 123 talukas of 24 districts drought-affected.
People from villages around the state have been reporting more and more deaths of cattle and sheep.
The kharif crop sowing target is 74.7 lakh hectares for this year and the normal coverage till July 16 should have been 40.3 lakh hectares but the actual coverage was only 20.84 lakh. The area covered by most crops is about half what it should have been at this stage. Only in the case of cash crops (cotton, sugarcane, tobacco) is the cultivated area above normal. Among horticulture crops, only potato cultivation has gone above 50 per cent of the target set for the year; tomato is at 17 per cent, and onion and chilli are at five and seven per cent respectively.
According to the moisture adequacy index, an indicator of soil moisture conditions and a more realistic assessment of drought conditions, 72 per cent of the geographical area covering 24 districts had moisture adequacy below 50 per cent, indicating drought conditions.
The water stored in all major reservoirs is the lowest in 15 years.
The Karnataka government has decided to waive loans to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore taken by farmers from co-operative banks to service their seed and fertiliser requirements. The government submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister on July 17 seeking central assistance of Rs 2,000 crore. The state has sought the dispatch of a study team to assess the situation and release interim assistance.
—Johnson T A
Maharashtra-Dry and disparate
For Maharashtra, the anticipated drought of 2012-13 comes on the back of drought-like situations in some regions in 2011-12. Of its 355 talukas, 228 have had less than 75 per cent of average rainfall. Eight of the 228 have had less than 25 per cent, and 69 between 25 and 50, setting the stage for what officials have described to the cabinet as a likely "serious" drought. One-third of the state is expected to face a water scarcity in the summer of 2013 if the trends continue, and almost twice the 7,500 villages already receiving drought relief measures will have to be brought under this ambit, say officials of the relief and rehabilitation department.
With two months of the monsoon still to go, wide disparities in rainfall and irrigation exist. According to the IMD, Central Maharashtra has accumulated a deficit of 37 per cent between June 1 and July 26, and Marathwada of 28 per cent. Vidarbha had a deficit up to 20 per cent last week but that is now down to around 6 per cent, and Konkan has a deficit of 13 per cent. The last two are within the normal range (±19%).
Among the districts that have received the least rain until now are Pune (45 per cent) and Sangli (52), both in Western Maharashtra, apart from Jalna (50) and Mumbai City (49), which gets its water supply from Thane. Storage in reservoirs is now at 24 per cent of capacity, up from 15 per cent last week, but far short of the 46 per cent this time last year.
While ministers and officials admit the situation is particularly grave with regard to drinking water —foodgrain can be procured from elsewhere — two back-to-back crop failure years mean complex problems for rural households. Overall sowing is estimated at 72 per cent of cropped area, with 202 talukas having sown on less than 75 per cent, 90 of these on less than 25 per cent.
"We are launching programmes to ensure maximum conservation of every drop of rain," said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The government announced during the recent legislature session a Rs-2,625-crore package for water supply, irrigation and water conservation. Chavan said it would also seek aid from the Centre's Contingency Reserve Fund.
Among the programmes under way are works to revive farm ponds, bandharas to hold water, canals near dams, a push to employment scheme works, watershed management and credit schemes. Chavan said he is also working on a plan to promote crops with lower water consumption.
—Kavitha Iyer & Aakriti Vasudeva
Gujarat-'drink, don't irrigate'
Gujarat has not yet declared a drought-like situation but has had a rainfall deficit of 63 per cent so far, leaving its reservoirs at only 34.41 per cent of their capacity. Saurashtra with 8.31 per cent storage and Kutch with 17.63 per cent are particularly struggling, while north Gujarat's reservoirs are 31.7 per cent full, and those in South Gujarat 36.16 per cent. Only central Gujarat is comfortably placed.
Roughly two-thirds of Gujarat's 26 districts have been declared as having received "scanty" rainfall, or less than 40 per cent of what is normal for this time of the year. The rest have received between 40 and 80 per cent. Kutch, in particular, has had just five per cent of its normal rainfall. Porbandar has had 10 per cent.
The government has reserved all water in the worst hit regions, including that from the Narmada canal network, for drinking and banned irrigation. The government has fenced off canal systems towards Kutch, with hundreds of armed men on watch and scores of water pilferers arrested.
Farmers have sown on 45,550 hectares, barely half the three-year average of 87,978 hectares. "At present 51 per cent sowing has been done compared to three years' average. It is around 18 per cent less than it was last year," said Dileep Sanghani, Agriculture Minister.
"We have a region-wise alternative crop plan ready. We will wait for another week and, if there is no rain, we will make arrangements for alternative seeds for farmers. In Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat we have stopped supplying irrigation water as the remaining water has been reserved for drinking. Only if required will we declare a semi-drought or a drought," the agriculture minister said.
"So far due to some rain in the catchment area of the Ukai and Narmada dams, we have started giving irrigation water in around 75,000 hectares of South Gujarat. The situation in Saurashtra is still very worrisome. We are managing drinking water supply using all available resources and additional resources," said Water Resources Minister Nitin Patel.
The state's only hope lies to the east, in the Bay of Bengal. Last week, a low pressure system formed there was moving westward when strong winds pushed it away towards eastern UP and Jharkhand. Gujarat is praying for a new one. As for the Arabian Sea, the IMD's Ahmedabad centre director Jayanta Sarkar said it has been "silent".
—Adam Halliday & Kapil Dave
Punjab & Haryana-Enough paddy, high cost
The weak monsoon has not affected the output of paddy, Punjab's main kharif crop. Its main concern, with rainfall 65-70 per cent below normal, is rather the high input costs.
With 97 per cent of its area under assured irrigation from canals and tubewells, Punjab has nearly achieved its paddy target of 27.5 lakh hectares. The difference is that it has cultivated more than usual of the late-sown and relatively water-economical basmati varieties (not procured for the central pool). These are likely to comprise one-fourth of the sown area, or seven lakh hectares.
Neighbouring Haryana, with a rainfall deficit of 79 per cent, is lagging behind in paddy sowing, having reached 9.5 lakh hectares of the targeted 12 lakh, but this state too is banking on assured irrigation to meet the target — by the first week of August. In Haryana, the area under basmati, which was estimated to fall this year owing to low prices last year, is now likely to remain 8 lakh hectares.
Punjab's joint director, agriculture, Gurdial Singh said that though the situation is drought-like, the paddy area will touch 28 lakh hectares. "It is the high input cost and indiscriminate use of fast depleting groundwater that are Punjab's main concerns as farmers are burning diesel to save their crop, incurring up to Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 per hectare extra," he said.
His Haryana counterpart, B S Duggal, echoed, "Deficient rain is resulting in high cost of production for farmers on diesel and for state power utilities on buying power."
The paddy crop needs to be irrigated 15 to 20 times if there are no rains and seven or eight times if the rains are normal. Even to ensure six to eight hours of supply, the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited has incurred a cost of Rs 6,556 crore by way of procurement from the spot market. It is also overdrawing from the northern grid, at high cost.
Punjab has demanded an interim relief package of Rs 800 crore for farmers who are sustaining their crop by burning diesel. It has also sought 1000MW additional power from the Central pool; so has Haryana.
As the Punjab government tries to fulfil its eight-hour power commitment to the farm sector, the general industry has had two days off a week forced on it, and the arc and induction furnaces three days off — a situation FICCI says is causing production losses over 33 per cent.
In southwestern Haryana, largely dependent on a good monsoon for its bajra, guar and pulses, these crops are set to suffer for want of rainfall. In case rains are delayed till the end of July, farmers are being advised to grow short-duration pulses and bajra, which need 70 to 80 days to mature. If rains are delayed beyond August 10, they will be advised to grow an oilseed, toriya, which can be planted up to September.
Uttar Pradesh-Short but hopeful
Of 72 districts — based on a UP map made before three more were carved out — 20 have received scanty or less than 40 per cent of normal rainfall, 23 others have been highly deficient and 10 deficient. Only 15 have received normal rainfall — these are mainly the eastern districts such as Allahabad, Varanasi and Sultanpur — and four have had excess. Seventeen of the 20 worst hit are in western UP.
Yet, said Dev Mitr Singh, director, agriculture, "there are no apprehensions, as of now, that there will be a drought". The Met department has predicted an improvement in rainfall. "The rainfall for July is normal. The deficiency is in cumulative rainfall, which includes rainfall for June," said Met director J P Gupta, predicting an improvement in western UP but a decrease in overall rainfall in the state before it would pick up again later.
Till July 4, eastern UP had received 27.8mm, 79 per cent less than what is normal for this stage, while western UP had received 6.9mm, 93 per cent less. The monsoon picked up afterwards, reducing the overall deficiency to 30.5 per cent, although the heavy showers were restricted largely to eastern UP.
Last year, 41 lakh hectares had been covered under paddy till July 21; this year, 35 lakh hectares have been covered against a target of 59 lakh. The cultivated area has dropped from 7.18 lakh hectares to 6.63 lakh for maize; from 1.68 lakh to 1.51 lakh for sorghum; from 5.13 lakh to 4.22 lakh for millets. Early signs, however, suggest an improvement in the coverage of urad, moong, peanuts and soyabean. "The shortage in paddy will be met through sorghum, millets and til," Singh said.
Against an overall target of 92.60 lakh hectares for all crops in the kharif season, the actual coverage is on 58.49 lakh hectares, or 63 per cent. Last year, against a target of 91.72 lakh hectares, 65.36 lakh had been covered till July 21. The difference is 11.74 per cent since last year.
The agriculture director said there has been no significant physical damage to crops due to the late arrival of the monsoon. "For paddy, the target is about 140 lakh metric tonnes," he said.
The spectre of a drought is not yet upon Orissa, but going by the deficiency in rainfall in almost all coastal districts, the state government is worried. Till July 25, the state had received 400mm rainfall, around 17 per cent less than normal. Of the 30 districts, at least 14 have experienced deficient rainfall with Balasore and Deogarh receiving 40 per cent less than average rainfall. Almost all reservoirs are empty, leading to a shortfall in power production. Almost all towns in Orissa are now experiencing four to five hours of scheduled power cuts.
Due to low rainfall, paddy transplantation has not been taken up so far in about 50 per cent of the target area of 1.2 million hectares. Director of agriculture R Sant Gopalan said farmers have been advised to go for short-variety paddy in areas where rainfall has been deficient. But he admitted that the situation would be precarious should rainfall continue to be deficient till the end of August. "Farmers would not be able to go for non-paddy crops as there would be hardly any moisture in the land," he said. Orissa produces paddy worth Rs 7,500 crore every year.
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