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20 April 2017 Editorial


20 APRIL 2017

Clouds of prosperity

IMD forecast

The monsoon forecast should galvanise the country to make the most of a good season

The ‘normal' monsoon forecast of the India Meteorological Department brings the promise of a year of growth and good health for India's economy and ecology. If correct, India will have a second consecutive year of normal rainfall, after two years of drought. The prospect that 2017 will be a good year boosts the prospects of enhanced agricultural output, healthy reservoir levels, more hydropower and reduced conflicts over water. It will also test the efficacy of the expensive water management initiatives launched during 2014 and 2015 by the Centre and the State governments to harness rainfall and build resilience for future drought cycles. As the IMD's experience shows, forecasting the all-India summer monsoon rainfall is fraught with uncertainties and has often gone off the mark. The dynamic model that it is using this year to make a forecast that includes an assessment of two phenomena - a possible late onset El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and variations in sea surface temperatures that create the Indian Ocean Dipole - will be keenly watched. Given that El Niño is expected only in the later part of the year when the monsoon is in its final stages, the expectation of normal rainfall is reasonable. A confirmation could come in June.

When more than half the population is sustained by agricultural livelihoods, highly efficient water utilisation holds the key to higher farm productivity. In fact, preparing for drought remains a top priority today, in spite of a big increase in outlays for irrigation made over successive five-year plans. Data on five decades of grain output from 1951 show that the negative impact of drought on productivity is disproportionately higher than the positive effects of a normal or surplus monsoon. This underscores the need to help farmers with small holdings to look ahead. As agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan pointed out during the drought a couple of years ago, the focus has to be on plant protection, water harvesting and access to post-harvest technologies. The NITI Aayog has also been calling for ways to cut water use, since India uses two to three times more water per tonne of grain produced compared to, for example, China, Brazil and the U.S. The way forward is to create ponds, provide solar power for more farms, mechanise operations and expand drip irrigation coverage. Aiding small farmers with the tools and providing them formal financing can relieve their cyclical distress. The area under drip irrigation, estimated to be less than 10% of net area sown, can then be expanded. A normal monsoon will also relieve water stress in the cities if they prepare catchments and reservoirs to make the most of the season and incentivise residents to install scientific rainwater harvesting systems.

UK Elections

a June date for Theresa May

Theresa May appears to hold all the cards as she calls a snap election in the U.K.

Given that she had ruled out a snap election on several occasions, British Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement on Tuesday caught most people by surprise. As the House of Commons a day later endorsed the advancing of the election, due in the normal course in 2020, by a thumping 522 votes for, and just 13 against, she appeared to have everything going for her. It was very different last summer when Ms. May was chosen by the Conservatives to occupy 10 Downing Street after Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down after the ‘Brexit' referendum. The Tories were smarting from internecine battles. Some of these feuds in fact were so brutal that she was not spared personal attacks relating to her health and family, matters wholly unrelated to her politics and suitability for being head of government. But since then Ms. May has come a long way, establishing a firm hold over the party apparatus. The few remaining members of Parliament from the pro-Europe camp have been further marginalised. Potential troublemakers among eurosceptics have also been kept in check. Ms. May now feels it is time to erase the perception that she is an unelected Prime Minister. The only real hurdle she had encountered to her Brexit plan was the legal challenge demanding a formal parliamentary authorisation of the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU. But what little resolve remained in the two Houses to secure guarantees for immigrants from the bloc and a demand for legislative approval of the final deal was met with strong resistance from the government. The announcement by the Scottish National Party of a second referendum on independence only delayed by a few days the start of the formal process of withdrawal from the EU.

The scope for the U.K. to bargain for a reasonable deal with the other 27 countries in the EU appears to be extremely limited. As the 2019 countdown has begun, there is now greater appreciation in London of this emerging scenario than there was a few months back. Chances are that EU law will continue to operate in several areas, long into a transition period after London formally leaves the bloc in March 2019. A possible extension of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or further inflows of EU immigrants, will test eurosceptic silence. It is likely that the advantage of facing the electorate ahead, rather than in the immediate aftermath, of the conclusion of an uncertain final Brexit deal influenced Ms. May in taking the decision to hold a snap poll. The timing is not all bad from her point of view. At the hustings on June 8, the voters face a choice between a demoralised and directionless opposition and a government obliged to deliver on their referendum decision last year to leave the EU. As the latter is now a fait accompli, a voter rethink on the question is almost of little consequence. For Britain's Labour Party, the challenge could not have been stiffer.

fait accompli: a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.


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