Normal Rains Likely: Agri Secretary
Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak has said the government expects a good monsoon this year as the El Nino phenomenon is retreating,
That is because output has dropped and the cost of inputs is up due to greater spending on pesticides, water etc. Where production is normal, prices haven’t risen, adding to rural distress and forcing thousands of villagers to migrate to urban areas for jobs. The scenario is no better for homes and companies. People are paying thousands of rupees to buy water or are trekking long distances in the heat as taps have run dry in places like Latur in Maharashtra. The dry, cracked earth speaks for itself. Latur is waiting for the ‘water train’—10 wagons of water being ferried by the Indian Railways from Miraj.
Dal millers like Nitin Kalantry are spending .₹ 10,000 a day for water. A tanker, or 6,000 litres of water, costs .₹ 1,200, up from .₹ 350 in November, in parts of Maharashtra. Santosh Mulay of Udgir in Maharashtra said he spends .₹ 2,500 a month to buy water for drinking and other domestic uses for his family of four.
Commercial activity that depends on water is grinding to a halt. Prithviraj Gore, a building contractor in Latur, has stopped work since the last four months because there’s no water.
Across the state border in Hassan district of Karnataka, former aviation entrepreneur GR Gopinath said the perennial stream near his farm has dried up while 30 borewells drilled to more than 600 feet produce just a trickle. Water in the country’s major dams is well short of the 10-year average, which doesn’t bode well for the planting of crops and electricity production, especially in the southern, central and western states.
“The biggest challenge a state like Maharashtra will face is in providing irrigation water to water-intensive crops like sugarcane, grapes and banana,” said GS Jha, chairman, Central Water Commission. “Drinking water can be provided by tankers and cattle fodder from other states.”
Ateam of central government officials has toured the parched regions of Maharashtra to assess the situation. Its report is expected shortly. The CWC chairman said the most deficient river basin is the Krishna, which caters to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where water levels are 63% below the10-year average. Reserves in the Tapi river basin originating in Madhya Pradesh and flowing to Maharashtra and Gujarat are 42% below the average while those in the Mahi and Godavari basins are 40% and 35% below normal, respectively. Nagarjuna Sagar dam has not become full perhaps for the first time in the last 20-25 years, said Sahadeva Reddy, principal scientist of Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad.
“In Kurnool district (Andhra Pradesh), the rains are deficient by 30% and over one lakh hectares of rice cultivation have been affected,” he said. Prakasham, Krishna and Guntur districts too have been hit by drought.
Most of these districts are in the grip of a drinking water crisis too as the ground water level has sunk ever lower because of successive droughts. As a temporary measure, the Andhra Pradesh government has decided to release two thousand million cubic feet (tmc) of water from Srisailam dam, Reddy said.
Prolonged dry weather without summer rain is threatening to hit the pepper and cardamom crop in Kerala. Black pepper output, which is already down by 25% to 40,000 tonnes from the targeted production, is expected to fall further next year.
Parts of Tamil Nadu had the opposi- te problem — bearing the brunt of surplus rain in November-December. The untimely rains and the dry weather that followed have played havoc with crops like rice and cotton. “In TN, excess rains and drought may drag the cotton output down by 40% from 5-6 lakh bales last year,” said M Ramaswamy, chief executive at Indian Cotton Federation.
In north India, there isn’t much water scarcity but the heatwave is a concern. But big farm producers in Punjab and Haryana are not too worried though.
“There is enough water in Punjab dams and being an election year the government will ensure availability of water. Even the high temperature will not make a dent in planting operations as requirement of water in MayJune will be negligible,” said Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of New Delhi-based farmers’ association Bharat Krishak Samaj. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana will start nursery preparation of paddy in May-end and transplanting to fields will begin by mid-June. Starting from the first week of May, planting of cotton will also begin across Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
In UP, farmers said they will start planting sugarcane and paddy by June. “Water is not a challenge as we get water at a depth of 200-300 feet, but yes cost of production will increase if rains are not on time and the heatwave is strong,” said Ramkumar Tyagi, a farmer from Mandola village in Ghaziabad district. Commodity prices are likely to stay high. According to government data, the retail price of tur dal in Mumbai in March this year was 82.5% more than a year earlier. Even if the monsoon is normal, prices of pulses are unlikely to decline. The best-case scenario will be prices remaining unchanged. Incomes have suffered due to lower yields and certain commodities becoming cheaper. The average wholesale onion price has remained at Rs 7 per kg for the last three months while pomegranate prices are much lower than last year.
The most deficient river basin is the Krishna, which caters to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh