As the southwest monsoon moves midway into its withdrawal phase, the prospects look encouraging. Numbers for the period June 1 to September 21 show that the cumulative rainfall from the southwest monsoon in the current year is 875 mm, which is 4% higher than the long-term average (LPA) rainfall of 843 mm. This indicates a rather optimistic scenario, similar to that in the same period of the previous year when the annual rainfall soared 4% higher than the LPA, which helped push up agricultural growth by a record 6.6% in 2010-11, the highest in over a decade. But the good rains pushed the Indian Meteorological Department to a corner, given that it has scaled down its April forecasts from normal (96-104% of LPA) to below normal (90-96% of LPA) in the forecast update made in June.
What is of more significance than the total quantity is that the rainfall was well distributed across the country, though not all regions benefited equally. Numbers by the third week of September show that 33 of the 36 Met subdivisions received normal or excess rains and rain was deficient in only three Met subdivisions. This is also a record for the recent years, bettered only in 2008 when 34 of the 36 subdivisions received normal or excess rains.
However, a look across the regions shows wide disparities. Numbers collated show that the top beneficiary was central India where the actual rainfall was 13% above the normal rainfall, followed by northwest India, which registered an 8% increase, followed by south peninsular India with a 6% gain. However, the rainfall in east and northeast India was 15% below normal.
The buoyant monsoon has had a positive impact on agricultural production. Trends until mid-September show that the total sown area has gone up to 1,038 lakh hectares, almost 3% larger than the 1,011 lakh hectares sown in 2010. However, there was substantial disparity in the changes in sown area across major crops. While the acreage under rice, oilseeds, cotton and sugarcane increased, that under coarse cereals and pulses declined. What is more surprising is that the changes in sown area seem to have little or even no correlation with the increase in minimum support prices.
While the 8% hike in the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy this year, to R1,080 for common and R1,110 for grade-A paddy—which is marginally higher than the 5% hike in the previous year—seems to have