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New Delhi: The southwest monsoon, which waters more than half of India’s farmland, is likely to be normal this year, the country’s weather department said, providing welcome relief to farmers and policymakers amid a parade of grim news.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Friday forecast that rainfall in the June-to-September monsoon is likely to be 98% of the 50-year average. There is a 40% likelihood of normal rainfall, and a 16% chance that rainfall will be above normal. The odds of a deficient monsoon is 25%.

Bountiful rainfall is likely to lift crop production and support the nascent economic recovery amid a resurgence of new infections that has prompted lockdown-like curbs in many cities.

Higher crop output is likely to put more money in the hands of farmers, boosting demand for goods and cooling food prices. Lower inflation, in turn, will give the central bank more room to keep interest rates low.

Normal rainfall in the past two years have partially mitigated the effects of the severe economic distress caused by the pandemic, said N.R. Bhanumurthy, vice-chancellor at Bengaluru Dr Ambedkar School of Economics.

“A good monsoon is always good news for any economy, especially an economy like ours that depends heavily on rainfall. While the Indian economy has faced many shocks in the past two or three years, adequate rainfall has at least partially mitigated the severe impact of the pandemic last year. We have also seen some stability in food prices because of this factor," Bhanumurthy said.

There was a 14% increase in the total area under cultivation for summer crops last year, according to the agriculture ministry.

Summer, or Kharif, crops are irrigated by the southwest monsoon, which accounts for about 70% of India’s annual rainfall.

Bhanumurthy said the rise in area under cultivation was partly because labourers who fled the cities during the covid pandemic took up jobs at farms.

“Agricultural output, which is about 15% of the GDP, has suddenly, at least partially, rescued the Indian economy from a sharp drop in GDP," he said.

Higher incomes of farmers also boost demand for two-wheelers, tractors and packaged consumer goods.

Earlier this week, private forecaster Skymet said that the monsoon is likely to be 103% of the 50-year average. Both agencies’ predictions have an error margin of 5%.

Skymet, however, said it expects the plains of north India and some parts of the north-east to be at risk of deficient rain through the season.

Interior parts of Karnataka may also have scanty rain in the core monsoon months of July and August.

However, there is likely to be good countrywide rainfall distribution in the onset month of June and the withdrawal phase of September, Skymet added.

Weather agencies categorize monsoon to be normal if the forecast for rainfall is 96-104% of the long-period average.

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