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* Normal monsoon rains forecast by U.K., U.S. scientists
* Japanese forecasts indicate weaker monsoon rains
* India to issue formal monsoon forecast on April 20
By Ratnajyoti Dutta
PUNE, India, April 14 (Reuters) - Weather scientists from the United States and Britain expect normal monsoon rains in India this year, reinforcing the top local forecaster's view that chances of another drought in the country are remote.
Monsoon forecasts for India are keenly watched by traders and analysts as the south Asian nation, one of the world's top producers and consumers of sugar, wheat, rice and edible oils, depends on rains to irrigate 60 percent of its farms.
"We expect near-normal or above normal monsoon for India," M Vellinga, senior scientist at the British weather office, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in the western Indian city of Pune on Wednesday. Last year, the June-September season, which delivers 75-90 percent of the total rainfall received in most parts of India, was the worst since 1972, stoking inflation and turning it into the world's top buyer of edible oils and a key importer of sugar.
The latest data shows the food price index was up an annual 17.70 percent in the middle of March, strengthening expectations for a hike in interest rates when the central bank reviews policy next month. [ID:nSGE6370AB].
Good rainfall will ease pressure on the government, which has seen widespread protests over rising prices, and faces a stormy parliament session from Thursday as rival parties have teamed up to oppose ballooning prices. [ID:nSGE63B0L2]
The head of India's weather office said monsoon rains were unlikely to fail for the second successive year. [ID:nSGE63904E]
Michael Tippett, a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, also expects good rainfall in India this year. "We see close to normal monsoon for India," he said.
Indian scientists said they were encouraged by forecasts that the El Nino weather phenomenon, which upsets normal weather patterns, was receding.
Rupa Kumar Kolli, a climate expert at the World Meteorological Organisation, said the El Nino, associated with an abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, was likely to be neutralised by the middle of June.
Tippet said the reverse cooling phenomenon was likely. "Sea surface temperature conditions hint at La Nina."
Such a development should improve rainfall.
But one weather scientist from Japan said monsoon rains would be weak this year.
"A less than normal monsoon is likely over India," said Kiyotoshi Takahashi of the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Indian weather officials say the monsoon remains a "mystery phenomenon" and no forecaster could have predicted last year's devastating drought. [ID:nSGE63C0GS]
India's weather office is likely to issue its formal weather forecast next week and update the prediction in June after including latest weather data in its model.
It considers several parameters such as surface temperature in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, and other sets of data in its statistical model. (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)