Shock ab­sorber. Re­ally?

Farm­ers across In­dia suf­fered heavy losses when the mon­soon turned out to be a non-starter. The Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana, the gov­ern­ment's flag­ship crop in­sur­ance scheme, was ex­pected to help them tide over the cri­sis. It turned out to be a non-st

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - RAJIT SEN­GUPTA with VI­NEET KUMAR in Ut­tar Pradesh and Haryana, NIDHI JAMWAL in Ma­ha­rash­tra, AJIT PANDA in Odisha, and JI­TEN­DRA and SHREESHAN VENKATESH in Delhi

The Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana, the gov­ern­ment's flag­ship crop in­sur­ance scheme, is fail­ing to pro­tect In­dia's farm­ers

OFICIALLY, THE mon­soon cov­ered the en­tire coun­try by July 19. The rain, in fact, was above nor­mal. But it was not of much help to the farm­ers of Anandgaon, a drought-stricken vil­lage Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Beed dis­trict, who had, on July 14, filed an fir against the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd), blam­ing the coun­try’s pre­mier weather fore­cast­ing agency for huge fi­nan­cial losses. The fir was as much a com­ment on imd’s pre­dic­tion ca­pa­bil­ity as it was on the per­for­mance of Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana (pmfby), In­dia’s am­bi­tious crop in­sur­ance scheme, run­ning into its sec­ond year. Trust­ing imd’s April fore­cast about the mon­soon be­ing early, the farm­ers had sowed their kharif crop. But it later emerged that the early rains were not part of the mon­soon; they were just pre-mon­soon show­ers. By mid-July, farm­ers from across the coun­try re­ported sim­i­lar loss of seed, re­sources and ef­fort be­cause the mon­soon took a three-week break. At this junc­ture, pmfby should have come to farm­ers’ res­cue. It did not.

That imd had bun­gled be­came clear when a ner­vous Deven­dra Fad­navis, Chief Min­is­ter of Ma­ha­rash­tra, is­sued an ad­vi­sory on July 9, ask­ing farm­ers to post­pone sow­ing till July 20. But this was a month af­ter farm­ers in Marath­wada, a cul­tural re­gion in cen­tral Ma­ha­rash­tra, had sown cot­ton, soy­bean, toor, moong and udid. “What was the point of an ad­vi­sory when al­most 85 per cent kharif sow­ing in our dis­trict was com­plete,” won­ders Sandi­pan Bad­gire, a farmer from Latur dis­trict’s Son­wati vil­lage in Marathawada.

Ad­mit­ting that there is a cri­sis and try­ing to avoid the blame, N Chat­topad­hyay, deputy direc­tor gen­eral of me­te­o­rol­ogy (Agrimet), imd Pune, says, “There was a com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap, which is the real prob­lem.” Of more than 13.4 mil­lion farm­ers in the state, only seven mil­lion re­ceive weather fore­casts through text mes­sages on mo­bile phones. “The agriculture min­istry should set up a por­tal to pro­vide un­in­ter­rupted weather alerts,” he adds. Coun­ters Anil Paulkar, the Latur bu­reau chief of Marathi daily Divya Marathi, “Mid-June on­wards, the rain­fall had di­min­ished, but imd is­sued no ad­vi­sory.”

Marath­wada re­ceives pre-mon­soon show­ers in early June and the nor­mal date of mon­soon’s ar­rival is June 10. How­ever, this year, Vi­darbha and Marath­wada re­ceived rains around May 29. A look at the Agro Ad­vi­sory Bul­letins of imd shows the agency’s lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach. Though sev­eral parts of Marath­wada and Vi­darbha had not re­ceived rain af­ter June 15, and the crops were still un­der threat, the Latur dis­trict Agro Ad­vi­sory Bulletin for June 20 rec­om­mended “sow­ing of rain­fed Bt cot­ton”, black gram and green gram. The June 30 ad­vi­sory too rec­om­mended spray­ing potas­sium ni­trate on crops to deal with wa­ter stress, and ir­ri­gat­ing crops with sprin­kler ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem. The ad­vi­sories gave the im­pres­sion that the mon­soon was pro­gress­ing well.

But how did imd get its fore­casts wrong? In­stead of ob­serv­ing and analysing wind pat­terns, it jumped the gun and de­clared mon­soon’s ar­rival purely on the ba­sis of pre­cip­i­ta­tion re­ceived in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Mad­hya Pradesh between May 29 and June 15.

This is how imd’s blun­der un­folded. It is­sued its first long range fore­cast (lrf) for the 2017 mon­soon in mid-April, pre­dict­ing the rain­fall would be “nor­mal”, 96-104 per cent of the long pe­riod av­er­age. This was re­it­er­ated in its sec­ond lrf re­leased June 6. In the sec­ond week of June, it de­clared that the Ara­bian Sea arm of the Indian mon­soon had ar­rived in Mad­hya Ma­ha­rash­tra, Marath­wada and Vi­darbha. Heavy show­ers in the re­gion seemed to val­i­date imd’s in­fer­ence; all three re­gions had re­ceived close to dou­ble the amount of rain they nor­mally re­ceive in the sec­ond week of June.

De­spite IMD's fore­cast of a nor­mal mon­soon, rains took a three-week break in June-July, dam­ag­ing crops across In­dia, par­tic­u­larly in drought-hit ar­eas

But there was some­thing strange about the rain pat­terns. The rain-sparse re­gion of Marath­wada re­ceived more pre­cip­i­ta­tion than Mad­hya Ma­ha­rash­tra and North In­te­rior Kar­nataka, which lie to its west and south re­spec­tively. Nor­mally, the sit­u­a­tion is re­verse. Why?

A look at the wind pat­terns ex­plains the odd dis­tri­bu­tion—weak mon­soonal winds never reached the in­te­ri­ors of Ma­ha­rash­tra. In­stead of winds from the west-south­west­ern di­rec­tion, as is re­quired for the mon­soon to pre­vail, winds that drove the heavy rains in Ma­ha­rash­tra in the first three weeks of June were hap­haz­ard. The rains were not mon­soonal to begin with. Mon­soonal con­di­tions took form in in­ner Ma­ha­rash­tra only in the fourth week of June. Nei­ther Marath­wada nor Vi­darbha have en­joyed rains since, with both re­gions reg­is­ter­ing deficits of over 60 per cent by July 13.

“Strong mon­soon de­pends on strong mon­soonal winds even in the up­per reaches of the at­mos­phere and not just close to the sur­face. This year, dur­ing the ini­tial pe­riod of rains, the higher winds did not sup­port the progress of the mon­soon and the stormy weather was a re­sult of the fric­tion between dif­fer­ent lay­ers of winds flow­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Sub­se­quently, we have seen a dry pe­riod fol­low this pe­riod of rain in Ma­ha­rash­tra. While the rain­fall ap­pears nor­mal, the num­ber of rainy days is much less than nor­mal,” ex­plains Ra­jesh Ka­pa­dia, an in­de­pen­dent weather fore­caster based in Mumbai. Rains have, in fact, dried up all over the south­ern penin­sula; all eight sub-di­vi­sions of the re­gion (ex­clud­ing Lak­shad­weep and An­daman & Ni­co­bar) have reg­is­tered deficit rain­fall for the first two weeks of July.

Well into the sec­ond week of July, mon­soonal winds were yet to cover the en­tire Indian land­mass—an event that nor­mally tran­spires in early July. De­spite this, north­west­ern states, the last part of the coun­try to re­ceive the mon­soon, have recorded pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els much above nor­mal. “The June and early-July rains in Pun­jab and other parts of north­west In­dia were pre-mon­soonal show­ers caused by western dis­tur­bances. That is why the rain­fall was on the heav­ier side in this re­gion,” says Sathi Devi, sci­en­tist at imd’s Na­tional Weather Fore­cast­ing Cen­tre (nwfc).

This, in fact, seems to be true for most of the coun­try. A week-by-week anal­y­sis of rain­fall shows that 19 of In­dia’s 28 me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions deemed to have re­ceived “nor­mal” rain­fall by July 13 have done so mainly by the virtue of short spells of ex­treme rain rather than sus­tained and uni­form rain char­ac­ter­is­tic of a strong mon­soon. De­spite 80-90 per cent of the coun­try hav­ing re­ceived rains, about a fourth of the dis­tricts (mainly from eastern, cen­tral and south­ern In­dia) have re­ported a rain­fall deficit of over 20 per cent in mid-July. In the east and the north­east, dis­tri­bu­tion of rain was dis­rupted first by cy­clone Mora in the end of May and then by the for­ma­tion of up­per air cy­clonic cir­cu­la­tion in June which in­ter­fered with the progress of the mon­soon. Jhark­hand, West Ben­gal and Odisha have al­ready faced un­char­ac­ter­is­tic long dry spells.

Dam­age across states

“Be­cause of the long gap between rains, crops faced wa­ter stress. Short-term crops, like moong, udid and soy­bean, were stunted. Their veg­e­ta­tive phase would be cut short and they will go into early flow­er­ing, lead­ing to a drop in yield,” says Mo­han Go­jam­gunde, agriculture of­fi­cer of Latur. De­pend­ing on if, and when, rains re­sume, there may be a 15-50 per cent loss in kharif yield in Latur. The sit­u­a­tion may not be much dif­fer­ent in other parts of Marath­wada and Vi­darbha.

In the neigh­bour­ing Mad­hya Pradesh, Shubham Pati­dar, 25, of Dham­nour vil­lage in Rat­lam dis­trict, is stak­ing all his sav­ing into re­plant­ing the crops. En­cour­aged by the early rain, he sowed soy­bean in his 5-hectare (ha) farm­land. But a three-week dry spell in June-July had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. “I had to re­move crops in at least 2 ha and sow again,” says Pati­dar. “There are many like me who are re­plant­ing,” he adds.

A large num­ber of farm­ers could not ben­e­fit from the Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana be­cause the banks had not de­ducted premium even though farm­ers had started sow­ing crops

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