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UPDATE 1-INTERVIEW-Indian forecaster sees end-July monsoon surge

* Good rains forecast in all regions, except central India

* Better rain seen in 2nd half of June-Sept monsoon season

* Total monsoon rain may be slightly below previous forecast

* Weather office to review monsoon forecast at end-July

(Adds details, byline and background)

By Ratnajyoti Dutta

NEW DELHI, July 21 (Reuters) - India’s monsoon, deficient but well distributed so far, is likely to intensify within 10 days and deliver normal rainfall in the June-September season despite a lean patch in mid-July, a top forecaster said.

Monsoon rains were 16 percent below normal from June 1 through last week, but heavy showers in the past two days have reduced the seasonal deficit by one percentage point to 15 percent.

The deficit is likely to narrow by another 5 to 10 percent by the end of July, D. Sivananda Pai, director at the Pune-based National Climate Center, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Rainfall in July is crucial for planting summer crops such as rice, cane, corn, soybean and cotton.

A good monsoon, after the last year’s worst drought in nearly four decades, also would help Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government calm public concern about inflation and encourage the government to ease export curbs on rice and wheat.

Pai, who is involved in preparing the monsoon forecast of the weather office, said distribution of rains was good so far, except in some pockets of the soybean-growing area which were relatively dry because of unfavourable conditions over the Bay of Bengal, and that the situation would improve.

“Rainfall distribution has improved in major crop growing areas despite a gap in the seasonal rains,” he said.

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For a table on crop area, see [ID:nSGE66F0GM]

For monsoon related stories, see [nSGE66E0IY]

For a factbox on monsoon forecasts, see [ID:nSGE65S0JJ]

For a graphic on seasonal rainfall: here

For a table on India’s sugar imports, see [ID:nSGE66J0BG]

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LA NINA

“The second half of the monsoon season is likely to receive higher rainfall due to developing La Nina conditions,” Pai said.

Earlier this month, the World Meteorological Organisation said La Nina, a weather phenomenon which usually causes stronger monsoons across Asia and eastern Australia, was likely to cool the tropical Pacific in coming months. See [ID:nLDE6650ZB]

Pai said the weather office would review its monsoon forecast for the entire season by the end of this month but ruled out any significant change from last month’s forecast.

“We still hold to our normal monsoon forecast for the entire season,” said Pai, a leading forecaster at the India Meteorological Department.

He said the seasonal rainfall could be 100 percent of the long period average, down by 2 percent from the weather office’s forecast in June.

On June 25, the weather office had forecast that the monsoon rains, which deliver 75 to 90 percent of India’s rainfall, would be 102 percent of the long-period average between 1941 and 1990.

“The entire monsoon season could be normal despite shortfall in July rains,” Pai said.

Rains between 98 percent and 104 percent of the average are considered as normal, according to the weather office’s classification.

Last year’s poor rains ravaged rice, cane and oilseed fields, hitting farm output and forcing the government to drop an import tax on sugar. Large imports by India, the world’s top consumer of the sweetener, helped benchmark New York sugar futures hit a 29-year peak early this year.

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said this year’s output prospects had brightened due to recent good downpours over major parts of the country. (Editing by Himangshu Watts, Surojit Gupta and Jane Baird)

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