India's monsoon brings gain and pain

NEW DELHI - India's life-giving monsoon is pouring down in abundance this year, providing a silver lining for a sluggish economy.

Yet, even as farmers rejoice at the bountiful rain that spells a good harvest to come, there is misery at the same time.

No fewer than 60 people have been killed since the monsoon arrived in northern India on June 15, and thousands have lost their homes.

Landslides blocked roads, trapping thousands of tourists and pilgrims in parts of the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh as the Ganges and its tributaries overflowed, washing away roads and bridges.

Footage of a large statue of Shiva, a Hindu god, being swept away in Rishikesh in Uttarakhand was aired on television channels.

An administrative official called the situation "grim", revealing that in Kedarnath, a Hindu pilgrimage site, only the main temple was left standing, with nearby shops and structures swept away in the floods.

Scores of people were missing from the worst affected areas as air force rescue teams in helicopters airlifted people and dropped food packets to those trapped in inaccessible areas.

More than 100 pilgrims were airlifted from Kedarnath as the home ministry called the devastation "extensive" in the two northern states.

In Delhi, the Yamuna river crossed the danger level and the authorities evacuated residents living in low-lying areas.

Because the monsoon has arrived two weeks ahead of schedule, the meteorological department said rainfall is 48 per cent heavier than normal this year and that rain will continue for the next 48 hours.

The monsoon season typically runs from July to September.

"After 1961, this is the first time the monsoon has preceded its usual arrival by two weeks. This was last observed in 1961, when by mid-June it had arrived in Delhi," said Professor Arup Mitra, an economist at the Institute of Economic Growth.

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