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India in for drier, hotter summer

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Pre-monsoon rainfall has been 21% below the long-period average (LPA) of 82.5mm between March 1 and May 8, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). North-west India, with a rain deficit of 37%, and peninsular India, with a shortfall of 39%, bore the brunt.

Rainfall triggered by cyclone Fani earlier this month managed to bridge the deficit in central, east and north-east India, which have now recorded normal pre-monsoon rains, according to data put out by IMD in its weather status report released on Friday. Central India has experienced 15% surplus rain over the LPA, mainly due to showers in the past one week.

Even so, extreme heat waves in most parts of India would mean large swathes of the country will remain dry before sowing begins in June for the Kharif crop with the onset of the south-west monsoon, which is critical in India, where nearly half the population is dependent on farming and 60% of the net-sown area does not have any form of irrigation.

Millions of farmers wait for the rains to begin summer sowing of major crops, such as rice, sugar, cotton, coarse cereals and oilseeds. Half of India’s farm output comes from summer crops dependent on these rains.

Many parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are facing a drought-like situation despite the 2018 south-west monsoon bringing ample rainfall, experts said.

“The water level in big dams this year is 10-15% less than previous years despite many of the regions receiving good rainfall last year,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

According to figures released by the Central Water Commission on Friday, 91 of the major reservoirs across the country are holding an average of 25% of their capacity.

Concerns of a weak monsoon this year have been fanned by a lingering El Niño, a weather phenomenon characterised by warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that is associated with poor rainfall and more episodes of heat waves in the subcontinent.

An update by private weather forecaster Skymet Weather said on Thursday that after tapering down slightly during April, El Niño indices have risen again in the last two weeks although the increase has been marginal.

“During the beginning of monsoon, there is a 60% chance of El Niño conditions remaining steady. This is why we are expecting monsoon rain to be below normal in June and then gradually becoming normal in the latter part of July and August,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president (meteorology and climate change), Skymet Weather. Deficient pre-monsoon rains and a weak beginning to the monsoon could have an impact on summer crop sowing, which may be compounded by deficient rainfall.

For a bountiful crop, the rains also need to be evenly distributed across regions. Robust summer rains, which account for 70% of India’s total annual rainfall, spur rural spending on most items and increases demand in other sectors of the economy. Rural sales, for instance, account for about 48% of all motorcycles and 44% of television sets sold annually if the monsoon is normal.

Officials at IMD, however, said concerns about El Niño are premature. “El Niño conditions have definitely not gone up. June onwards, it will move towards neutral El Niño conditions. We don’t expect El Niño to amplify. At the most, there will be a sluggish start to the monsoon but it will not be detrimental in any way,” said KG Ramesh, IMD’s director general.

Last month was marked by heat waves in many parts of the country, including eastern Uttar Pradesh, western Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Vidarbha, and Telangana. Some northern parts of the country also recorded extremely high temperatures.

For example, Una in Himachal Pradesh recorded 41.7 degrees C on Friday; Sundernagar, also in Himachal Pradesh recorded 37.6 degrees C, Dehradun in Uttarakhand was at 38.7 degree C. The highest maximum temperature this summer recorded till now has been at Brahmagiri in Vidarbha on May 2 at 46.4 degrees C.

“Heat wave in central India, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh is expected in May which is the peak summer season… We have noticed that the temperature in the foothills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are also 3 to 4 degrees above normal. Temperatures also increase before a western disturbance approaches,” said Charan Singh, senior scientist at IMD. Due to an approaching western disturbance (WD) and moisture incursion from Arabian Sea, scattered rainfall and thunderstorms are expected in north-west India and north India, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, on Sunday.

“The heat wave will abate. There will be scattered rainfall in northwest India till May 17. But it is unlikely to compensate for the deficient pre-monsoon showers over the country,” added Palawat.

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More services at your doorstep in Delhi by month-end

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The Delhi government is going to offer 30 new services under its ambitious ‘doorstep delivery of services’ scheme by the end of this month, according to revenue minister Kailash Gahlot. Delayed by six months, the launch of the scheme’s second phase will allow Delhiites to make changes in their driving license or get a bus pass, among other services, without stepping out of their home.

Once opened to public, the total number of government services provided through the doorstep delivery of services initiative will increase to 70, from the existing 40. The 30 new services that will be added involve 10 departments, including labour, SC/ST welfare, tourism, drugs control, higher education, transport and food, and supplies departments.

“Under the second phase of the scheme, we are going to launch 30 new services by the end of this month. This will also help ration card holders as they will be able to add names of beneficiaries and make other changes in their cards. People will also be able to pay their motor vehicle tax or add a new category of vehicle in their driving license,” said Gahlot.

The scheme was launched by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on September 10 last year. The government had announced that the second phase would be launched on February 1. But, Gahlot said, the launch was deferred because of the Model Code of Conduct that came into effect during the Lok Sabha polls.

Officials in the administrative reforms (AR) department running the scheme, however, said the launch was deferred as the back-end team had to be strengthened. “The software used to crash almost every time due to the demand. Over the past six months, we have worked on developing a completely new software. Besides, earlier there was no linkage between the mobile sahayaks and the call centres and both verticals were operating in silos. We have now linked the two branches,” a senior official said.

Each service costs ₹50 and documents are collected from the applicant’s home through government agents or ‘mobile sahayaks’. The final document will be delivered either by hand or post.

Another official said that in the first three months, the AR department and the private concessionaire handling the back-end team faced difficulties in increasing the number of mobile sahayaks and retaining them. “In October and November, over 50 mobile sahayaks left the job as they were dissatisfied with the pay. Recruiting new employees was a problem, as only those who had a two-wheeler could apply, because the job required for them to travel a lot. These issues have now been sorted,” the official said.

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With 60 minutes to go, ISRO calls off Chandrayaan 2 launch due to snag

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With the countdown clock freezing minutes before 2 am, the launch of Chandrayaan-2, India’s second mission to moon, was called off 56 minutes before the scheduled time early Monday morning.

The GSLV Mark III carrying the orbiter, lander, and rover was to take off at 02:51 am from Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, the country’s only launch site.

The launch was aborted as an “abundant precaution” after a technical snag was noticed in the launch vehicle systems after filling liquid hydrogen in the cryogenic upper stage of the rocket.

“A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at 1 hour before the launch. As a measure of abundant precaution, #Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later,” a statement from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said.

There were four suitable window periods for the launch of Chandrayaan 2 in the month of July – July 15 and 16 and then again during new moon on July 29 and 30. The launch window on July 15, which is just days before the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong first walking on moon, was missed.

The launch is unlikely to happen during the next three windows in July.

“The stages will now have to be drained to see what went wrong,” said an official, on condition of anonymity.

The next window for launch will be in September.

The indigenous mission was first scheduled for March 2018 and delayed four times for making changes in the design of the lander and the orbit in which it would reach the surface of the moon. The July 2019 launch date was decided after a design change to the lander, a change in the orbit, and the new GSLV Mark III launch vehicle to carry the now heavier satellite.

India’s second mission to moon had been approved by the cabinet in 2008 just after Chandrayaan 1. Initially, Russia’s Roscosmos was supposed to develop the lander and the mission had to be postponed when Russia was unable to develop the lander on time and later withdrew after the failure of its mission to Phobos, the moon of Mars, prompting India to develop the entire mission on its own.

Chandrayaan 2 mission will make India the fourth country after the US, USSR, and China to land on moon. It will also be the first mission in the world to land near the lunar South Pole to look for water and cold traps with history of the solar system.

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Suspecting her ‘character’, man crushes 19-yr-old girlfriend’s face: Cops

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A 19-year-old aspiring model was allegedly killed by her boyfriend on suspicion of her “character” in Maharashtra’s Nagpur district, police said Sunday, adding that the accused has been arrested.

The victim is identified as Khushi Parihar, a resident of Nagpur, and the accused as Ashraf Sheikh.

A Nagpur police official said they received information on Saturday morning about the body of a woman with her face crushed lying along Pandhurna-Nagpur highway.

Police identified the victim through social media, he said, adding that Parihar used to participate in local fashion shows and was aspiring to become a model.

Sheikh was later arrested, he said.

According to the official, Sheikh has “confessed” that he killed Parihar because he suspected her character and “closeness” with some youths.

Prima facie, Sheikh travelled with Parihar in his car on July 12 and later allegedly killed her by crushing her head at Savli Fata near Pandhurna-Nagpur highway, the official said.

A case of murder has been registered by Nagpur (Rural) police and further investigation is underway.

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