New Delhi: Delayed monsoon in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is worrying the government with prices of fruit and vegetables up 50 percent in 10 days and the water level in reservoirs nearly half of last year."We are keeping our fingers crossed till July 15.

There appears to be a delay in the monsoon," said a senior agriculture ministry official, not wanting to be named. He said the ministry hoped for normal rains from Sunday.

Tomatoes, which cost Rs.25 per kg on an average in Delhi 10 days ago was selling at Rs.55 per kg on Thursday. Potatoes which cost Rs.10 per kg are now selling at Rs.20 per kg.

The overall monsoon deficiency in the country was 23 percent till Tuesday, the meteorological department said.

The rainfall deficit, said the met department, was 40 percent in the northwest, 22 percent in the central region and 13 percent in the eastern and northeastern regions, which produce the bulk of the summer crop.

In Haryana and Punjab, the deficit was 71 percent and 73 percent respectively, it said. Around 60 percent of the country's agriculture depends on monsoon rains. As such, the ministry has asked states to keep alternative plans ready in case the situation does not improve.

Officials said the government had sufficient quantity of seeds and fertiliser in store to tackle any crisis. The department of animal husbandry too has been advised to prepare plans to meet possible fodder shortage in rainfall-deficit states, they said.

Alternative plans have been devised at the district level too.The agriculture ministry says water reservoir levels as on June 28 was 25.36 billion cubic metres (bcm) against 41.01 bcm on the same date in 2011.

This year's storage is 62 percent of the last year's level, said officials, adding that a close watch should be kept on the water reservoir levels in rain-deficit states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Officials hoped that the monsoon activity would improve over the next two weeks and fill the reservoirs. Till July 6, rice, the main summer crop, was sown on 16.3 percent less area as compared to last year, said agriculture ministry officials.

They also said that sowing of millet and pulses was affected in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. They hoped a revival of rains in the second half of July would ease the situation.

Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had noted there was a two-week delay in the monsoon in June but said the situation was not worrisome.

Sowing of paddy was 0.19 million hectares less than in 2011, he said."Yes, monsoon has been delayed by two weeks...But the situation is not as serious as it is made out to be. We expect the rainfall to pick up next week onwards," Pawar said.

He also said that sowing of pulses was less by 0.21 million hectares compared to last year. But Pawar assured that the country had sufficient food stocks."Against a buffer norm of 33 million tonnes, food stocks on June 1 stood at 82 million tonnes," he said.

(Agencies)

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