The southwest monsoon, after lying low for a while, is expected to cover the eastern and western parts of the country by June 22. Given that rains so far have been 42 per cent less than normal, much is being speculated about its performance. Director General of India Meteorological Department L S Rathore tells Sanjeeb Mukherjee there is no need to worry. Edited excerpts
How are the rains looking now?
Well, it is definitely looking up. It has started raining in peninsular India; though the amount is not very high, but nevertheless it has started. I think the monsoon rains will see some strong advancement in the next couple of days.
Do you expect the 42 per cent deficit in rains between June 1 and 12 to be covered in the coming days?
Rain deficit in the first two weeks of the four-month southwest monsoon season, that starts from June does not have much of an impact. As far as this year is concerned, in the coastal regions, rains have been good. Tamil Nadu, however, is not dependent on the southwest monsoons. In case of Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, which is predominantly a groundnut growing belt, sowing starts only from July 15. So, there is still time to recoup the losses. Similarly, in interior Karnataka, which has seen deficit rains, sowing of maize and sorghum starts from June-end. Hence, there is still ample time to recoup the losses and, nonetheless, the monsoon has started progressing.
Deficit rains can be countered by proper management practices. If the rains remain low for long durations, we can address that by planting early maturing varieties.
What about the impact of the El Niño on the southwest monsoon rains this year?
I think, too much is being interpreted about the impact of the El Niño. It is forecast at 0.5-0.7 per cent, which means there is a chance of a mild impact on the monsoon. It is not a big anomaly. Even if it hits the rains, it will happen only around middle of August or September. There is no one-to-one correlation between the El Niño and the monsoon here, which means, that despite El Niño we can have good rains.
The El Niño is just one factor which has an impact on the rains; it is not the only one.
Do you think now we are better prepared to face any adverse monsoon situation than before?
Yes, definitely. 2009 is a glaring example of how we have developed the capability to handle adverse weather conditions. In 2009, despite a 23 per cent shortfall in southwest monsoon, foodgrain production was 218 million tonnes, just seven per cent less than the previous year's.
In 2009, June rains were 47.2 per cent less than normal, July 4.3 per cent less, August 26.5 per cent less than normal, while September rains were 20.2 per cent less. So, despite such bad weather, we managed decent food production, which means we have developed the ability to withstand adverse weather. As I said, our management, based on regular meteorological information and assisted by the agriculture wing, will surely help us in countering any adverse weather condition.