India's annual monsoon, halted by cyclone Laila last week, is likely to hit the country's southern coast on schedule in the next three to four days, weather officials said on Thursday.
Facing high food prices after the monsoon failed last year, India is counting heavily on normal June-September rainfall to help the government tackle supply-side inflation.
Street protests over high prices have kept the government under pressure, and if the rains fail and inflation soars, it could force an interest rate hike, complicating the government's plans to borrow about $100 billion during the current financial year.
"Conditions are becoming favourable for onset of southwest monsoon over Kerala during next 3-4 days," the weather office said. The start of monsoon rains on schedule would help timely sowing of rice, corn, soybean and cotton in India, where 60 percent of the farms depend entirely on rainfall for irrigation.
Monsoon winds were weak, and may need up to two days to strengthen, D. Sivananda Pai, director of the National Climate Center at the western city of Pune, told Reuters by phone. The India Meteorological Department has forecast that the June-September monsoon will hit the mainland on May 30, two days before normal, by entering the southern state of Kerala.
"It is already raining in Kerala but we are waiting for certain characteristics of monsoon," Pai said. Officials say that they will declare the onset of monsoon only if the rainfall on the southern tip of the country is accompanied by other developments including a particular level of moisture in the air, the spread of rains and other parameters.
B N Goswami, director of the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said weather conditions over the Indian ocean did not signal an early arrival of monsoon rains. "This is because large scale conditions over the equatorial Indian Ocean are still not favourable for a timely onset," he explained.
The monsoon rains had not advanced for the past six days because of cyclone Laila, but this was not yet a big cause for concern, weather officials and experts said. "There is still time for an onset. Nothing much to worry about as of now," R.R. Kelkar, former director general, India Meteorological Department, said.
This year, the monsoon reached the first destination of its four-month journey across the subcontinent -- the Andaman and Nicobar Islands -- on May 17, instead of the usual May 20, before moving to many parts of the Bay of Bengal in the following week.