* Monsoon seen active over northwest India next week
* Western parts of Rajasthan state received heavy rains
By Ratnajyoti Dutta
NEW DELHI, Aug 16 India's monsoon rains were
slightly below average in the past week, but heavy downpours
arrived in a parched western state, the weather office said on
Thursday, easing fears of a repeat of the widespread drought
that gripped the country three years ago.
Rains were 2 percent below average in the week to Aug. 15,
which was little changed from the 1 percent figure the previous
week and showed that an overall improvement, which began at the
end of July, was still intact.
The 2009 drought, when June-September monsoon rains were 22
percent below average, forced India to import sugar, pushing
global prices to 30-year highs.
This year, the deficient monsoon has cut the total area
planted with cereals and lentils, threatening the supplies of
animal feed and fodder in coming months.
India has taken steps to cut irrigation costs and increase
fodder supplies for livestock farmers, but it has held off from
imposing curbs on agricultural exports or banning futures
trading in farm products.
Rains spread last week to lentil-producing areas of the
western state of Rajasthan, which have needed water this season.
The rains were as high as 248 percent above average in the
parched parts of the desert state.
The weather office has forecast more rain in Rajasthan,
improving the outlook for winter-sown crops such as rapeseed,
which are grown in irrigated areas. India is the world's top
buyer of vegetable oils.
"Monsoon rains are catching up with the late revival in the
western and central regions, which will ensure soil moisture for
winter crops such as rapeseed and wheat," said B.B. Pattanaik,
managing director of the state-run Central Warehousing
Soybean and rice areas of central and eastern India received
average rain last week, improving output prospects. Rains at
regular intervals after planting typically boost yields.
The recent improvement has narrowed the rainfall deficiency
to 15 percent so far for the season, which started in June. This
is due to a pick-up from the second half of July, after a rain
deficiency of 29 percent in June. In July, the rains were about
13 percent below average.
The annual monsoon brings about 75 percent of the country's
Earlier this month, India's weather office revised its
forecast for the monsoon season to deficient rains - a drought
in layman's terms.
Harish Rawat, the junior farm minister, said the total area
affected by drought has been lower this year than in 2009 and
pointed out that the government had already introduced
contingency plans for those areas hit the worst.
Punjab and Haryana are the most-affected states in the
north, Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the
The monsoon rains continued to be poor in parts of Gujarat,
which grow cotton and oilseeds, but improved over cane areas of
Rains in the grain bowl states of Punjab and Haryana have
been below average, though major crops such as rice and cotton
were sown there using irrigation.
Rawat said overall grain output is unlikely to fall to the
level of 2009/10, when production declined by about 7 percent to
218.11 million tonnes.
The country produced 257.44 million tonnes of grain in the
crop year that ended in June 2012, a record, as the monsoon
rains were normal in 2011.