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2017-08-22

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Science & Technology
www.thehindu.com

A special fitted aircraft which will spray chemical to induce rainfall, as part of the cloud seeding project "Varshadhari", taking off from Jakkur airfield, after the inauguration, in Bengaluru on August 21, 2017. The cloud seeding project, taken up by Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) department at three places including Bengaluru, Gadag and Yadgir, at the cost of state's exchequer a whopping Rs 35 crore. Photo: K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K_MURALI_KUMAR

While the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime and Central clearances delayed Project Varshadhari, a cloud seeding initiative, by at least 10 days, a government ceremony and the frills accompanying it saw a weather modification aircraft miss its date with the clouds.

On Monday, the 60-day, ₹35-crore programme was launched at Jakkur Aerodrome with the hope of seeding clouds in a 20-sq. km area at Magadi. Though the modified flight was scheduled to take off at 2.45 p.m., by the time the photo-ops were done and the last-minute decision to flag off with the ‘Kannada’ flag fulfilled, the aircraft — carrying three State Ministers — had lost its clearance window for take-off.

It then had to wait for more than an hour until trainee aircraft from the nearby Air Force base at Yelahanka finished their sorties.

According to members of the project monitoring committee, Magadi was chosen as there was an expectation of conducive cloud formation on Monday afternoon. But it was only at 4.50 p.m. that the flight took off, and most of the clouds had passed by then. In the end, three flares of chemicals were fired and two clouds seeded.

“The best time for seeding is generally between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. With the function and the delays, the clouds dissipated. But this was just an experimental flight to show how the system works,” an official said.

Behind schedule

Over the next 60 days, a small plane will spray chemicals on ‘growing clouds’ in the hope of condensing water particles and increasing precipitation.

Though the project has been launched to capitalise on monsoons clouds, H.K. Patil, Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, said it was 10 days behind schedule. “There were delays in getting Central clearances and because of GST,” he said.

As reported by The Hindu, three weather-monitoring radars were stuck at the Kempegowda International Airport for over a week because of confusion over GST. The aircraft and radars were being imported from the United States and this required clearance from numerous Central agencies.

However, Mr. Patil said there was still enough time to increase rains in the seeded areas by 15-20%.

Full system within a week

With the weather-monitoring radars still being commissioned, cloud seeding will commence fully within the next four days, said H.P. Prakash Kumar, chief engineer, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department, and project in-charge. “For the next few days, we will try to seed clouds in southern Karnataka, based on where rain-bearing clouds are and if the areas to benefit are rain-deprived. Once the radars are set up, we will extend this to the three basins,” he said.

Better equipment

It was in 2003 that Project Varuna, a cloud seeding project, was launched by the then Minister for Water Resources H.K. Patil. While the results of that project have been subject to debate, this time around the monitoring committee of meteorologists and cloud physicists expects better results. “The radars and the aircraft are more sophisticated and whether clouds are seeded can be assessed within 10 or 15 minutes. This will increase the success rate of seeding,” said Ram Sagar, senior scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

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