Source: The Economic Times

 

Unseasonal heavy rain, accompanied by hail in some cases, have come at a most inconvenient time. Standing crops have been damaged across many parts of India – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The list of devastation is long - wheat, maize, gram, soyabean, mustard, masoor, millet, sugarcane, vegetables particularly potato and onion, orchard crops like apples, cherries etc., mango, grapes, bananas, pomegranates, oranges- and add to that the loss of cattle, poultry and other farm animals. India’s Agrimet report for 14th March has singled out crops in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as severely affected. According to the Met, these weather conditions are usually seen in April and May, coming a month or two early; not only have crops been destroyed but the quality of harvest is also now a concern.

 

Damage to standing crops brings with it a host of issues, and for the farmers, trying to recover what they can from the fields will be a tremendous challenge. For governments at the centre and the state, this time round, the extreme weather has come at a very inconvenient time - inconvenient because it will have a negative impact on an economy that is already down on its knees and inconvenient because it comes just before the elections.

 

What does this mean? The economy has been limping along, and last year’s good monsoon had given much needed support to growth. Now, it will not get this relief going forward. The unruly weather is not a localised event but spread across many crops and in many parts of the country, this is bound to get the agri sector down. The 2nd Advance Estimates of agri output released in the middle of February had made its estimates on the backdrop of increased sowing and yields, the realised harvest will now be quite different. Again, inflation numbers had only just recently overcome the spikes in primary food item prices, and have been trending down. Clearly inflation will now bear the brunt of the crop damage. Prices of wheat, vegetables and fruits seem to be the most at risk.

 

For the state and central governments, the challenge is also to give adequate and timely relief to the farmers, while complying with the Election Commission monitored model code of conduct. The relief operations will have to face the eagle eye of the opposition as strident voices are ready to go to town about any shortcomings.

 

Weather conditions are turbulent still, adding to the political uncertainty; in short - the storms could not have come at a worse time.