India's crucial monsoon rains are forecast to be normal this year, the weather office said on Tuesday, bringing hope to the agricultural sector which employs 60% of the population and has been hit by drought in recent years.
Good monsoon rains are vital for Indian crops and a particularly dry season can reduce farm output, raising food prices which can be crippling for the tens of millions of India's poor.
More than half of India's farms lack irrigation for their crops, meaning they rely almost entirely on the annual rains that fall between June and September.
"The country will receive 96% of the long period average," K. J. Ramesh, director general of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), said at a news conference.
The long period average refers to a 50-year average of 89 cm rainfall for the entire four-month season beginning June.
"We expect normal climatological distribution of rains and we also expect the trend of higher agricultural production and economic growth to continue."
India's weather office defines rainfall between 96% and 104% of the long-period average as normal. 
Last year's monsoon was above average in much of the country, bringing relief to millions of rural farmers reeling from two years of drought.
However, India's southern peninsula did not receive enough rain, resulting in drought in some parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala states. 
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