Karnataka launches cloud-seeding to increase rainfall, how effective is the technology?

27th Aug 2017
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The southern state became the most recent to try its luck with cloud seeding to bring back rain. However, this controversial method is flawed in many ways.

It’s the third consecutive year that seasonal monsoons have failed in drought-hit Karnataka. Mass migrations, farmer suicides and regional water tussles seem to have been the most significant manifestations of the problematic agricultural scenario in the state, which only promises to get worse if the rain gods fail to shower blessings.

The Siddaramaiah government has offered little help except routine loan waivers, which seem to be the easiest solution to the impending crisis. In line with other efforts to ease farmer’s woes comes the latest experiment, cloud seeding.

Bringing the rains

For those who don’t know, cloud-seeding is a weather modification technique that is used to enhance rain or snow. It involves increasing the efficiency of rain bearing clouds by spraying chemicals such as dry ice. However, this is not the first time the Karnataka government has opted for this advanced scientific intervention to combat slack monsoons. The SM Krishna government in 2003-2004 was the first ruling government in the state to attempt cloud-seeding, named ‘Project Varuna’ for over 80 days at a budget of Rs. 9 crore.

More than a decade later, the incumbent Congress government is investing a little over Rs 35 crore for the far-fetched project, even though the previous endeavour was almost deemed a failure.

Bengaluru-based Hoyasala Projects Pvt. Ltd., which won the contract tender has imported US made aircrafts that will carry out seeding at the Cauvery, Tungabhadra and Malaprabha river basins for about two months. An official ceremony inaugurated by Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister H K Patil, at Jakkur airfield last Monday marked the start of the much talked about artificial intervention programme.

The cloud seeding operation uses sophisticated technology where calibrated radars locate rain bearing cumulus clouds ideal for seeding. This is then followed by aircrafts fitted with chemical cylinders seeding moisture laden clouds over rain deficient catchment areas.

Success or failure?

The previous attempts have been largely unsuccessful. The current ambitious project also aims to enhance the possibility of rains by a mere 15-20 per cent. Moreover, even if the project succeeds, there’s no definite way to tell since they are attempting it during monsoons, says Dr HS Shivaramu, head of Agro-Metrology, University of Agricultural Sciences at Gandhi Krishi Vidyalaya Kendra, Bengaluru.

“The major problem with cloud-seeding is that there’s no established mechanism to verify and determine the success of the technique,” Professor Shivaramu further adds.

Tamil Nadu became the first state in the country to attempt cloud- seeding as early as 1983-1984. Karnataka and Maharashtra followed in 2003 and 2008 respectively when drought situations prevailed. Cloud seeding also has two distinct types namely base seeding and direct injection methods, with the latter having a slightly better success rate. However, the presence of rain-bearing clouds of a minimum prescribed thickness existing within 7km from ground level are pre-requisite for both types to succeed.


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Is Karnataka prepared?

The present effort has three radars installed at Bengaluru, Shorpur and Gadag aiding in locating the presence of moisture bearing clouds. “In a way the project is yet to take off successfully because there’s news about the radars already having a problems detecting conducive cloud formations. In this context, this advanced operation is no easy task,” Dr Shivaramu explains.

It’s best suited in places like Texas, America where they have can afford to invest huge money and still fail, because the cloud seeding attempts there are more research-oriented than result-oriented. A country like India, which is deeply rooted in agrarian economy cannot afford that and it’s certainly not going to end farmers’ problems altogether.

Professor Shivaramu also disagrees on cloud-seeding being considered one of best possible options of the drought alleviation programme. “Cloud-seeding cannot substitute other insurance schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana which is now considered both lucrative and effective. We can never be clear if any dam levels were increased because of cloud-seeding. Hence, direct compensations help farmers far better,” he opines.

Karnataka’s drought situation

Unfortunately, 160 out of 177 taluks in Karnataka were declared drought-hit during the Rabi harvest season of 2016, as per the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre findings. Based on an Inter-Ministerial Central Team (ICMT) report that studied the drought situation in the state, the Union government and National Disaster Relief Fund granted an assistance of Rs. 1782.44 crore to Karnataka early this year. However, little has percolated to the grassroots to help framers in real time.

The worst drought in decades has affected all framing communities in Karnataka alike, be it small subsistence farmers or large plantation owners growing cash crops.

Our annual yield has reduced more than 50 percent due to repeated weak monsoons. I was optimistic about cloud-seeding, but I’m disheartened after hearing about its ambiguous success rates. Moreover, it’s only limited to a few catchment areas. So a lot of people are unclear and confused about how much good it’s going to do, says agriculturalist Chandrappa.M.P, who chiefly grows arecanut in the Malnad region of Shivamogga.

“When the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted good monsoons this year, we couldn’t be happier. Moreover, the Malnad belt is usually blessed with abundant rains. Nevertheless, this dry spell has to be the worst that I have ever seen. It’s a major reason to worry if such scanty rains continue next year too,” he sadly concludes.


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