x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Monsoon rains cannot come fast enough for many in India

This year's monsoon has arrived a week late in Mumbai and the rains are slow in gathering pace.

Ganga Bisan, a farmer from Jaipur in Rajasthan, has little luck trying to sell umbrellas on the roads of Mumbai. This year's monsoon has been delayed by more than two weeks in some parts of India.
Ganga Bisan, a farmer from Jaipur in Rajasthan, has little luck trying to sell umbrellas on the roads of Mumbai. This year's monsoon has been delayed by more than two weeks in some parts of India.

MUMBAI // From his tiny shop near the Santa Cruz train station, Mohammed Hanif carefully watches the clouds gathering, hoping the rains would bring him some business.

But the shower, when it came, quickly sputtered out, barely dampening the streets of Mumbai before the sun came out again.

Mr Hanif, dejected, went back to selling notebooks and pens; a pile of umbrellas in a bin outside his shop remained untouched. Another colourful dozen hung above his head.

"All this stock is waiting for the rains," he said.

This year's monsoon has arrived a week late in Mumbai and the rains are slow in gathering pace. By this time last year, Mr Hanif had sold nearly 80 per cent of his stock - prompting him to buy almost 500 umbrellas this May in preparation for the monsoon. But, so far, he has sold less than half of what he bought.

Nearby, Nasir Hanif, who sells oversized children's raincoats that are large enough to protect pupils and their schoolbags, has also noticed the slow start.

"I don't know what the parents are waiting for," he said.

"Even if the rains are late by a week, they are holding off. Do they think their children will grow a few extra inches between now and next week?"

Rains are still expected to be average in 2012, according to the India Meteorological Department.

"There has not been sufficient rainfall on the ground in Mumbai," said VK Rajiv, the director of the Mumbai branch of the department. "That deficiency will be made up in the months to come."

Mr Rajiv and his colleagues believe that India, as a whole, will receive about 96 per cent of the 50-year average of 89 centimetres during the four-month season from July. The prediction was down from the April forecast of 99 per cent.

"The latest forecast is good and definitely not alarming as the long-term average has not been revised below 90 per cent, which would have meant a drought this year," said M Rajeevan, a senior scientist at the ministry of earth sciences.

Monsoon rains are critical for farm output and economic growth as about 55 per cent of India's arable land is rain-fed, and the farm sector makes up about 15 per cent of a nearly US$2-trillion (Dh7.3tr) economy, Asia's third-biggest.

So far, the rains have been 24 per cent below average since the season began, delaying the sowing of crops such as sugar cane, soybean and cotton in central and southern India.

"Average rainfall is good for crop production, but it needs to be evenly distributed. So far the spread wasn't good," said Nalini Rao, a senior analyst at the Mumbai-based brokerage Angel Commodities Pvt Ltd.

Ashok Ingle is head of the district council of Buldhana in Maharashtra, 540 kilometres north-east of Mumbai.

He puts little stock in the assurances from the weathermen.

"The experts can say there will be enough rainfall but that is a prediction," he said.

"These forecasts change every week, every month and the farmers are always the ones who are most affected when they are wrong."

He said it is not the first time that the monsoon's arrival has been delayed.

"Last year the rains came, but it was not enough. It was the same the year before," said Mr Ingle. "I am not sure the farmers can afford more bad news this year."

Average rainfall this year would mean avoiding a drought for a third year in a row in one of the world's biggest consumers of rice, wheat and sugar.

At a traffic intersection in Malad, a suburb of Mumbai, Ganga Bisan, a farmer in his 40s, was having little success this week hawking brightly coloured umbrellas.

He takes to the streets to sell goods when the farm work slows in his hometown near Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan.

"When the rains come, I will become a farmer again," he said. "I will do what I know best."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters

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