On July 27, official weather forecaster Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) stated that the country, as a whole, received 5 per cent more rainfall than the long period average (LPA) since the onset of the southwest monsoon on June 1. The analysis was in sync with the prediction IMD had made immediately after the onset of the rains when it said the rainfall for the entire June-September season was likely to be between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the LPA. What it did not factor in were the floods and the resultant loss of agricultural crop in Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal.
It is too early to quantify crop losses in various states, but early estimates point to significant damage where kharif sowing was happening. In Gujarat, for instance, officials fear that 30 per cent of the sown cotton and groundnut crop could have been affected. About 40 per cent of the sown crops - mostly paddy, maize and vegetables - might have been lost due to the floods in Assam.
But given the frequency of such incidents, one cannot blame IMD for coming up with misleading predictions.
In fact, IMD's monsoon rainfall predictions, at a more segregated level, did present a complex picture. It had stated that the rainfall (with an error margin of +8 or -8 per cent) would be heaviest in Central India (100 per cent of LPA), followed by the South Peninsula (99 per cent) and the rest of India (96 per cent). But the pattern of rainfall has not been in that order going by the floods in Gujarat or Rajasthan. On the other hand, rainfall has been deficient so far in Karnataka and Kerala.
There is an increased incidence of climate change-induced natural calamities. If district-level contingency plans - which most state agriculture departments have been preparing for some time now - cannot solve the problem, plans for even smaller geographical units should be worked out. The administration needs to be candid about its failure to take adequate precautions to minimise the impact of such hazards.
Another critical area where government intervention remains half-hearted is the compensation payment exercise. Even the flagship crop insurance scheme - Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana - is not without faults.
Over the years, IMD predictions have improved a lot. And blips, if any, could no longer be an excuse for the governments - both central and state - for not taking enough precautionary measures to minimise the hardships and economic losses caused by deficient and even surplus rainfall. With more than half of India's net sowing happening in rain-fed regions, there is no other option.