New Delhi: India forecast normal monsoon rains on Tuesday, as expected by the stock market and policymakers, raising hopes of another good harvest after what is estimated to have been a record year in terms of foodgrain production in 2010-11, but some experts remained indifferent to the prediction because the estimates are very preliminary.

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“The long range forecast for the 2011 south-west monsoon season is that the rainfall for the country as a whole is most likely to be normal," Pawan Kumar Bansal, minister for parliamentary affairs, science and technology, and earth science said at a briefing packed with reporters.

Bansal announced that quantitatively, the June-September monsoon rainfall is likely to be 98% of the long-period average (LPA), with a 5% deviation in either direction.

Photo: Hindustan Times

The monsoon generates nearly 80% of India’s annual rainfall and is the main source of water for agriculture, which contributes around 15% to the country’s gross domestic product and fuels demand for a range of products from precious metals to consumer durables. Apart from helping India meet its economic growth target of at least 9%, the rains are expected to play a part in cooling high food inflation that has remained in double digits during a major part of last year. Food prices first rose in the wake of 2009’s drought and issues related to distribution meant that they continued to remain high in 2010, which witnessed a bumper harvest.

The monsoon “certainly has a sentimental impact, it could help stabilize things a bit in terms of financial performance, but let us wait for the actual rains", said Abheek Barua, chief economist at HDFC Bank Ltd. “IMD (India Meteorological Department) has gone wrong in the past."

Barua said subsequent forecasts of IMD expected in the run up to the rains and while the monsoon is in progress, will be more keenly watched for “many nuances such as spatial distribution and continuity of the rains".

For his part, the director general of IMD Ajit Tyagi said the date for the onset of rains and the regional forecasts would be available later, and warned that the prevailing La Nina weather condition, which is waning, posed a threat if it is replaced by El Nino, known to cause droughts in Asia.

“Evolution of conditions during the monsoon season is going to play a very important role," Tyagi said. “The major impact can be seen looking at how the La Nina behaves in the month of May." La Nina, prevailing since last year, is said to have brought prolonged and unseasonal rains over India. La Nina (the girl) refers to an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon where temperatures at the surface of some parts of the Pacific Ocean are lower by 3-5 degrees Celsius. It is the opposite of the El Nino (the boy) phenomenon where the temperatures are higher. Both phenomena cause unusual weather patterns in several countries.

The prediction of a normal monsoon could encourage farmers to sow more of foodgrain, oilseeds and commercial crops, but that will not guarantee a high output as there are still chances of the season not turning out as expected, said a senior commodity analyst.

“Prices have been attractive so we could be seeing an 8-10% higher acreage," said Kishore Narne, senior vice-president (commodities) at Anand Rathi Commodities, a brokerage in Mumbai. “But it is difficult to comment on the overall agricultural output for kharif as most of the things are not very clear at this time."

Commodity prices have generally been high since India had the worst drought in nearly four decades in 2009 that saw 33% lower rains than the LPA and forced the country to import sugar in addition to the vegetable oils and pulses it usually has to buy overseas.

Meanwhile, the government has raised the minimum support prices (or the prices at which it buys from farmers) for major commodities so that farming remains remunerative.

IMD has not changed its five-parameter statistical forecasting system that includes north Atlantic sea surface temperature and north-west Europe land surface temperature, Tyagi told reporters. He warned that even when normal rains are predicted, there could be pockets of less rainfall in the country.

Cooler temperatures in northern India despite the summer season and higher snowfall in the Himalayas currently do not have a very high correlation to the monsoon, Tyagi said in reply to questions regarding unusual weather patterns seen this year.

“Snow cover and mild summer has been there. This has been built into our forecast," he added.