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Monsoon likely below average this year, says weather office

The monsoon will likely be 95 per cent of the Long-Period Average (LPA), the weather department said in its first forecast for this year's rainy season. The LPA is the average rainfall received over a period of 50 years. The forecast will be updated in June.

People help a family pick up their motorcycle after it slipped on a flooded road during monsoon rains in Mumbai July 12, 2013. Photo : Reuters People help a family pick up their motorcycle after it slipped on a flooded road during monsoon rains in Mumbai July 12, 2013. Photo : Reuters

The southwest monsoon, responsible for the primary rainy season in India, is projected to be below normal this year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Thursday.

The monsoon will likely be 95 per cent of the Long-Period Average (LPA), the weather department said in its first forecast for this year's rainy season. The LPA is the average rainfall received over a period of 50 years. The forecast will be updated in June.

The department forecast a 60 per cent probability this year of El Nino , a weather phenomenon that can cause drought-like conditions. It said there is a 35 per cent chance of the monsoon being normal this year and 33 per cent probability of the rainfall being below normal. There is a 23 per cent chance of a drought.

The IMD classifies rainfall between 90 and 95 per cent of the LPA as below normal and less than 90 per cent as drought. Rainfall between 96 and 104 per cent of the LPA is considered normal and between 105 and 110 per cent as above normal. Anything above 110 per cent is considered excess. Last year, the country had an above-normal monsoon at 106 per cent of the LPA. This helped boost grain output to a record 262 million tonnes.

Last week, private forecaster Skymet projected the monsoon to be 94 per cent of the LPA. "We are looking at below normal monsoon though chances of drought are remote," said Jatin Singh, Skymet's CEO. "Regions in northwest and central India will be particularly impacted. Advancement of [the] monsoon is going to be staggered. Crops like paddy, soybean, maize, cotton and sugarcane could be affected."

The monsoon is a vital determinant of food inflation as it is critical for sowing of kharif crops like rice, oilseeds, pulses and onion. Cotton is also dependant on the monsoon and so is the fate of the textile industry. Good kharif sowing and harvest decide the trend of food inflation during the second half of the calendar year.

The southwest monsoon lasts from June to September. Most of the country, except the southern peninsula, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, receives more than 75 per cent of its annual rainfall during this period. The monsoon rainfall during this period has a direct bearing on crop yield across the country. Agriculture and allied sectors such as forestry, logging and fishing account for 14 per cent of India's economy, but employ more than 50 per cent of the workforce.

The impact of an errant monsoon is felt across industries including consumer goods, automobiles, cement and steel. A severe drought can make a difference of two to five per cent to the country's economic output. Despite agriculture's declining contribution to the economy, the monsoon still matters a great deal because of its indirect impact on the purchasing power of a large section of the population that depends on farming for livelihood.