India prays to rain gods to tame inflation, fill granary (Lead)

June 17th, 2008 - 8:29 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) An early monsoon may be a good omen for the government that is under attack for spiralling inflation, but experts are also looking for a stable rainy season ahead to ensure a bumper rice crop. “Early monsoon is good, but should be continuously stable. Farmers need regular monsoon rains from July onwards, when the cultivation of paddy crop starts in the country,” says Dalip Kumar, an economist with the Delhi-based think tank National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

“Rains will make a difference only when they pour regularly in July, August and September - three crucial months in the country’s paddy cultivation. Let’s hope for the best,” Kumar told IANS.

P. Chengal Reddy, secretary general of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA), a leading body of farmers, agreed that good monsoon guaranteed availability of water for paddy crop, as 60 percent of the cropped area in India is rain fed.

“Yields will go up, but one should also note that farming expenses have gone up by 100 percent in the last few years,” he added.

“The government’s decision to hike diesel price by Rs.3 per litre will affect Indian farmers adversely, who get only Rs.850 as minimum support price for one quintal or 100 kilograms against Rs.1800 in Thailand,” Reddy told IANS. “Where is the profit for farmers?”

As per an official estimate, the demand for rice in India is projected at 128 million tonnes for 2012 and will require a production level of 3,000 kilograms per hectare against the current average yield of 1,930 kilograms per hectare.

The government has targeted production of 129 million tonnes of rice by 2011-12, on a growth rate of 3.7 percent along with other food grains.

“Four years down the road, India needs to increase rice productivity by over 40 million tonnes per year, something which is feasible,” said an agriculture ministry official.

The official said that in 2006-07, the consumption of rice was 88.25 million tonnes. As per fourth advance estimates July 19 last year, he said production was over 92 million tonnes, going up to 95.68 million tonnes this April.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, all three leading economists, have maintained that prices will moderate following a good monsoon.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has termed Sunday’s downpour as an early arrival of the southwest monsoon, the lifeline of millions of farmers. June 29 was the official deadline for monsoon to hit Delhi.

Prime Minister Singh has said that if the monsoon was to be normal, people would see inflation rate moderating after September 15, a view shared by Chidambaram and Ahluwalia.

The official data has said agriculture, including fishery and forest, grew at the rate of 4.5 percent in 2007-08, against 3.8 percent in 2006-07.

The officials felt that monsoon would remain quite normal during the season, and would result in a bumper paddy crop.

“Good monsoon will have not only good paddy crop, but also other grains like pulses, and edible oil. The staple urea fertiliser is adequately available,” said a ministry official.

The Department of Fertilisers said 27.71 million tonnes of urea was available in 2007-08 against which only 26.16 million tonnes was sold.

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