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Not much hope for India's grain bowl

July 27, 2004 08:58 IST

With the monsoon likely to remain weak in the north-west for a few more days, the agricultural scene in this major rabi belt is beginning to cause disquiet. 
 
Elsewhere, however, the situation seems to have improved slightly, thanks to scattered showers in past couple of days in the hitherto rain-deficient tracts of Vidharba, Telengana and west Madhya Pradesh. On the whole, the deficiency in the total monsoon rainfall in the agriculturally crucial month of July has risen to 21 per cent. About 216 districts fall in the deficient or scanty rainfall categories. 
 
The country's grain bowl of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and adjoining irrigated areas of eastern Rajasthan has virtually remained rainless in the past one week. 
 
Though the crops have so far been largely okay due to the diversion of more power to the rural sector, but the situation may not remain so for long. 
 
For, the India Meteorological Department does not foresee any tangible revival in the monsoon activity over this region in next few days as no fresh weather system has been sighted over the Bay of Bengal. 
 
Besides, the water level in the Bhakra and Pong dams that feed the irrigation canal network in this region is reported to be down to critical. Water releases may have to be curtailed in the absence of rains. 
 
This will create problems for the crops in the canal command areas in Punjab, Haryana as well as Rajasthan. It may also adversely affect power production in the entire northern region. 
 
The crop condition in the south-western areas of both Haryana and Punjab is reported to be precarious. This is because the underground water in this tract is brackish and the farmers have been forced to use that for irrigation. This may cause salt injury to the crops. 
 
This danger has increased, also because the lack of rains has caused the sub-surface salts to rise to the plant root zone. However, the recent rains in the parched areas of Telengana, Vidharba, west Madhya Pradesh and some areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra are expected to result in resumption of the stalled crop sowing operations. These showers are also likely to save the already planted crops, which had begun showing symptoms of moisture stress. 
 
In the southern and coastal belts, too, the pace of crop planting has picked up with the revival of the monsoon, however subdued, since July 18. Even paddy planting is reported to have gathered momentum. The planting of oilseeds, pulses and coarse cereals is also going apace in these regions. 
 
However, sowing of sugarcane and cotton may not benefit much from the present mild resurgence in the monsoon activity as the time the planting of these crops is already over in many parts. 
 
In the case of oilseeds, though overall sowing is lagging behind schedule, but the groundnut planting is more or less normal. However, soyabean acreage is marginally down and the standing crop is also in need of fresh showers. 
 
The total water storage in the country's major 71 reservoirs was estimated on July 16 at merely 27.9 billion cubic metres, or 21 per cent of the full reservoir level of 131.28 BCM. Seven dams have no utilisable water. But recharging is going on in areas receiving normal rainfall.

Surinder Sud in New Delhi