Prime Minister Modi called for optimal grain storage, fire audits and mock drills in hospitals as preparations for the harsh summer forecast by the meteorological department.
As several parts of India enter a long and dry summer, water levels in the country's reservoirs and foodgrain storage are being closely monitored to ensure that irrigation, power generation, and -- most critically -- grain supplies do not wilt in the heat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for optimal grain storage, fire audits, and mock drills in hospitals as preparations for the harsh summer forecast by the meteorological department, and asked officials to track the water levels in reservoirs.
This is all the more vital given the grim projections of El Nino and its possible impact on India's southwest monsoon this year.
So far, not much can be said with certainty about El Nino's impact on the monsoon, except that it is expected to appear during the second half of the four-month southwest monsoon season starting June.
Reservoirs: Bad news and good
Already, water levels in the reservoirs are less than the corresponding period of last year, as on March 9.
The good news is that the water levels are higher than the average of the last 10 years during the corresponding period.
Of the 143 reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission, 18 have electricity projects linked to them.
Live storage in the reservoirs is 86.449 billion cubic metres (BCM), which is 49 per cent of their total live storage capacity, according to the reservoirs bulletin of March 09.
Last year, during the same period, the total water available in these reservoirs was 53 per cent of the capacity.
However, the water available this year is significantly higher than the average storage during the same period of the last 10 years, which is 75.218 BCM.
The water levels in reservoirs dipped this year due to the lower-than-expected winter rains in most parts of the country.
From January 1 to February 28, rainfall across the country was about 45 per cent less than normal.
Not only that, in February 2023, the monthly average maximum temperature over the Indian region was the highest since 1901, while the monthly average minimum was the fifth highest, according to the Met department.
The average minimum temperature was the second highest in February over north-west India, third highest for east and north-east, and fifth highest for pan-India since 1901.
That made February unusually dry, depleting the reservoirs.
Region wise, the March 9, 2023, Central Water Commission data showed that except for the 10-odd reservoirs in north India, water levels in reservoirs of all the remaining regions of the country were lower than last year.
But, in all regions, water levels were much higher than their 10-year average.
To recap, the Met, in its March to May forecast, had said that both maximum and minimum temperatures over most parts of east, north-east, central and north-west India was expected to remain above normal.
Only in Southern Peninsular India, both the maximum as well as minimum will remain normal to below normal.
Grain Storage: Ample space, for now
Prime Minister Modi, in his review meeting, directed the Food Corporation of India to ensure optimal storage of grains in extreme weather conditions.
Foodgrains storage is a critical aspect of the preparations for fighting heat waves.
March to May is the period when wheat procurement across the country's northern belt -- in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and western Uttar Pradesh -- is at its peak.
These are states where the impact of heat is felt most severely.
With prolonged exposure to heat, the wheat lying in the open either in mandis or elsewhere could deteriorate in quality.
The Centre has targeted to procure 34.1 million tonnes of wheat from farmers in the coming season starting April, significantly higher than the actual procurement of about 19 million tonnes in 2022-2023.
According to government data, the total storage capacity available with FCI and state agencies, both owned as well as hired, is 71.39 million tonnes as of January 2023.
Foodgrain stocks, as on February 1, 2023, were 33 million tonnes.
This means there is ample storage space available with the government even before the wheat procurement gathers full steam.
This is largely on account of the huge offtake of wheat and rice in the last three to four years due to Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Ann Yojana alongside the usual public distribution system.
For now, it seems that government will be able to face the challenges.