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Rain deserts, crops cry for life
- Soaring temperatures make matters worse

Calcutta, March 31: A dry spell since November coupled with the soaring mercury might spell disaster for crops this year.

Agriculture department officials said there has been only 7 mm of rain in south Bengal and 5 mm in the north from November 2005 to March 2006. The usual rainfall during this period every year is about 103 mm in south and 75 mm in north Bengal.

'In addition to the dry spell, there was an abnormal rise of about 4 degrees in the minimum and maximum temperatures in the second half of February and 2 to 3 degrees in March. This led to the drying of the early mangoes,' said Swadesh Mishra, the state's agricultural meteorologist.

On March 26, the maximum temperature hovered around 41 degrees Celsius across south Bengal.

'The excessive heat has also affected pollination,' Mishra said.

The crops affected for lack of irrigation include boro paddy, standing on about 14 lakh hectares in Burdwan, Hooghly, West Midnapore, Howrah, Nadia and Murshidabad.

'We haven't been able to provide irrigation as most water reservoirs are empty. There isn't enough water in the DVC reservoir and the Kansabati is also virtually dry. Only the Teesta has some water, of which we have been able to use a small amount,' agriculture director D. Konar said.

Because of erratic power supply in the districts, it is often not possible to operate pumps uninterrupted and use underground water. Konar added: 'In any case, the underground water table has also fallen sharply.'

Pulses, summer vegetables and sesame, which are cultivated across Bengal in March, have also been affected.

It is feared that the standing rabi crop will have smaller ears and the grains will be underdeveloped.

Pod formation of the late mustard will also be affected by the rise in temperature, as will the size of sunflower seeds. An official expressed fear that potatoes, too, could be smaller in size.

'Jute sowing has not yet started in north Bengal because of the lack of irrigation water,' he added.

Last year's inadequate monsoon has made the situation worse. 'Rainfall last year was 23 per cent less than expected in Gangetic Bengal and 15 per cent less in north Bengal. It last rained in October and that, too, only in the two Midnapores, Howrah and Hooghly,' added Mishra.

A similar dry spell during this time of the year had last occurred in 1999, but the temperatures had not been so high and it had rained that April.

'1999 wasn't as bad as this year. It's difficult to quantify losses till the harvest season, but crops have definitely been affected,' Mishra said.

While his department is grappling with a situation fast turning out to be a crisis, agriculture minister Kamal Guha has stopped attending office to campaign for his son, who is contesting the elections from his father's Dinhata seat in Cooch Behar.

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