India set to see average monsoon rains this year

Rain drops are seen on crops before they are harvested in Burha Mayong village, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Gauhati, India, May 25, 2015. (AP)
Updated 16 April 2019

India set to see average monsoon rains this year

  • Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybeans

NEW DELHI: India is likely to see average monsoon rains this year, the state-run weather office said on Monday, which should support agricultural production and economic growth in Asia’s third-biggest economy, where half of the farmland lacks irrigation.
Monsoon rainfall is expected to be 96 percent of the long-term average, M. Rajeevan, secretary at the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told a news conference.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 centimeters for the entire four-month season beginning June.
“Overall, the country is expected to have well distributed rainfall scenario during the 2019 monsoon season, which will be beneficial to farmers in the country during the ensuing Kharif (summer-planting) season,” the IMD said in its forecast.
Skymet, the country’s only private weather forecasting agency, earlier this month forecast rainfall could be below normal this year.
Monsoon rains, the lifeblood for India’s farm-dependent $2.6 trillion economy, arrive on the southern tip of Kerala state around June 1 and retreat from the desert state of Rajasthan by September.
After a wet spell, sowing of summer-sown crops gets off to a strong start, boosting crop yields and output which in turn raises rural incomes and usually lifts consumer spending in India.
If plentiful monsoon rains lift agricultural production this year, that could keep food prices under control. Subdued overall inflation could also add to pressure on India’s central bank to cut interest rates.
“IMD’s prelim forecast, showing near-normal and well distributed rainfall, will bode well for near-term food inflation,” said Madhavi Arora, lead economist at Edelweiss Securities, FX and Rates.
The next policy review by India’s central bank is scheduled for June 6, after the country’s election. Millions of Indians are casting their votes in a mammoth general election, spread over seven weeks.
On the downside, higher production could mean farmers continue to get hit by low crop prices, a major cause for concern in rural India, where most Indians live, in the past two years.
After falling for five straight months, retail food prices in India rose 0.30 percent in March from a year earlier.
Last month, a senior IMD official told Reuters that this year’s monsoon was likely to be robust and healthy provided there wasn’t a surprise El Nino phenomenon.
“El Nino is weakening and we expect that El Nino will get weakened further. There is no reason to be worried about El Nino,” Rajeevan said.
A strong El Nino, marked by a warming of the sea surface on the Pacific Ocean, can cause severe drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India, while drenching other parts of the world such as the US Midwest and Brazil in rains.
The emergence of a strong El Nino triggered back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015, for only the fourth time in over a century, driving some Indian farmers to penury and suicide.

ECONOMIC GROWTH
Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybeans.
Stronger agricultural production would help support India’s economy. It is still the world’s fastest-growing major economy, but annual growth slowed to 6.6 percent in the December quarter, from 7.0 percent in the previous period and the slowest in five quarters.
The monsoon usually covers the half of the country in the first 15 days. The rains reach central India’s soybean areas by the third week of June and western cotton-growing areas by the first week of July.
India’s weather office will update its forecast in the first week of June.
However, on average, the IMD has forecast accurately only once every five years over the past two decades, even after taking into account an error band of plus or minus 5 percentage points.


Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

Updated 23 October 2019

Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

  • Border crossing will give Indian Sikhs visa-free access to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. 

The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.

Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C. L. Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.

The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir. 

Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.

Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.

“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee,” said the ministry. “Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”

The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.

New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur. 

The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.

Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.