A good omen

With the south-west monsoon just round the corner, there is hope not only for an end to the searing summer but also for a bounce of the economy which depends heavily on the rains. A normal monsoon has been predicted by the meteorological department and there are no indications of the prediction going wrong. But the governments at the Centre and the states have to be prepared for all eventualities like an excess rainfall which brings in floods or a deficit that can cause droughts. Last year also the prediction was for a good monsoon but it fell short of expectations. There have only been rare cases of a monsoon failure for two consecutive years but whenever it happened it had disastrous consequences. A monsoon which is normal at the national level may not also turn out to be so for all regions because the distribution of rainfall can be uneven across the country.

The Centre has convened a meeting of relief commissioners to assess the situation and to ensure that the official machinery is prepared to face contingencies. This is an annual exercise and it has not been very effective in dealing with disasters when they occurred. A welcome feature of recent government policy is the shift in emphasis from post-disaster action to preventive measures. This will also help to reduce corruption that has marked relief operations. The deployment of calamity relief funds has not always been satisfactory. More funds have now been allocated to states to deal with disasters and the procedure for drawal has been made simpler. But the disaster management machinery is not very efficient in many states. Since the actual responsibility to undertake pre-emptive measures or relief work rests more on states, preparedness has to start at that level. The states should also ensure that the district authorities are able to cope with contingencies. It is better to expect the worst and plan for it than to be struggling to deal with a disaster after it has happened.

Monsoon expectations have given a boost to kharif prospects. Last year there was a shortfall in acreage and output of all kharif crops but this year both are bound to increase. The likely increase in output is crucial to containing food inflation and the general price level. The timely availability of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs are important and the authorities should ensure this.

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