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UPDATE 1-India's weather office forecasts average monsoon rains in 2018

* Monsoon rains seen at 97 percent of a long-term average

* Low probability of a deficit monsoon - weather office
chief

* Weather office to issue updated monsoon forecast in early
June
(Adds details, background)

By Sudarshan Varadhan and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI, April 16 (Reuters) - India is likely to receive
average monsoon rains in 2018, the weather office said, raising
the possibility of higher farm and economic growth in Asia's
third-biggest economy, where half of the farmland lacks
irrigation.

Monsoon rains, the lifeblood of the country's $2 trillion
economy, are expected to be 97 percent of a long-term average,
K.J. Ramesh, director general of the state-run India
Meteorological Department (IMD), told a news conference.

"We see very less probability of a deficit monsoon," Ramesh
said.

Other than lifting farm and wider economic growth, a wet
spell will keep a lid on inflation, potentially tempting Prime
Minister Narendra Modi to bring forward general elections due in
May 2019.

India's weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall
as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89
cms for the entire four-month season beginning June.

"The moderate La Nina conditions developed in the equatorial
Pacific during last year started weakening in the early part of
this year and currently have turned to weak La Nina conditions,"
IMD said in a statement.

La Nina is a weather pattern that brings equatorial Pacific
Ocean temperatures, rainfall patterns and winds closer to
average.

The latest forecasts from global models indicate conditions
over the Pacific will turn neutral before the beginning of
monsoon season, the IMD said.

Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice,
corn, cotton and soybeans, accelerating economic growth that
rose 7.2 percent in the December quarter, its fastest in five
quarters, compared with China's 6.8 percent in that quarter.

Growth in the December quarter restored India's status as
the world's fastest growing major economy.

On Monday, government data showed that India's wholesale
food prices fell 0.07 percent in March 2018 from a year earlier.

India's weather office will update its forecast in June.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing
by Malini Menon and David Evans)

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