As millions of farmers in India continue to wait for the season's monsoon rains, vital for the country's agriculture and power sector, the Indian Meteorological department says that it expects at least 10 per cent less rain this year.

In a statement released late on Thursday, the department said that the rains between June and August 1 have been 19 per cent below normal levels, and that the remaining month of the monsoon will also be drier, owing to the developing El Nino conditions.

El Nino is the slight warming of the Pacific Ocean.

The shortfall is expected to swell electricity demand in an power-starved country, as farmers turn to irrigation pumps to keep fields waters. Earlier this week, three of India's regional electricty grids failed for hours in a blackout that affected more than 600 million people.

"If the government doesn't help us we will die of hunger. There's no water to drink and no food to eat."

- Bharat, a farmer from Gujarat state

Several states have already declared near-drought conditions, and are demanding extra federal funds or announcing large subsidides to help farmers to purchase diesel fuel for electricity generators.

Officials in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh - India's most populous  - fear that a drought is around the corner.

Farmers in the state say that if rain does not come in the next few days, they will be forced to forego this year's rice crop.

In the eastern state of Bihar, at least eight of 38 districts have received rains that are 70 per cent below normal, said Anil Kumar Jha, the deputy director of the state's agriculture department. Jha said the state is spending 6.19 billion rupees ($112m) on subsidising diesel so that farmers could generate electricity to draw up ground water.

Cascading effect on economy

Several other states - Haryana and Punjab in the north, Maharashtra in the west and the southern state of Karnataka - have all recorded poor rainfall.

These states grow a large amount of the country's rice, wheat, oilseeds and cereals.

A poor monsoon has a cascading effect on the Indian economy, because about 60 per cent of the population works in agriculture and more than half of the country's farmlands are rain-fed. The sector contributes up to 20 per cent to India's gross domestic product.

A lack of adequate rainfall in this period can also worsen inflation of food prices.

While the government is yet to declare a drought, it has already offered 19 billion rupees ($340m) in cash and subsidies to tens of millions of farmers.

It has also rolled out contingency plans to ensure seeds are available to farmers and adequate fodder is supplied for livestock, as well as prioritising drinking water from low-level reservoirs.

Overall this year, there has been a reduction of around eight million hectares (19.7 million acres) in the crop area sown compared to last year, when the rains were normal.

"If the government doesn't help us we will die of hunger. There's no water to drink and no food to eat," said Bharat, a farmer from Gujarat, in western India.

"We are tired of looking at the sky, but the rain just doesn't fall," he said.

Source: Agencies