"We are competent to handle any variation in normal monsoon. We had geared up for the situation last year when there were 12 per cent deficit rains, we will handle better this year as well," said Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.

He was replying to a question on steps to be taken by the government to protect farmers' interest in case of poor rains.

In its first forecast, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) today said that the southwest monsoon is likely be below normal for the second successive year due to the El-Nino phenomenon.

The IMD said parts of the northwest and Central India are likely to be affected the most with less rainfall.

Monsoon rains are crucial for agriculture as only 40 per cent of the cultivable area is under irrigation. The farm sector contributes about only 15 per cent to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it employs about 60 per cent of India's population.

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