| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI India's crucial monsoon rains were 50 percent below average in the past week, the weather office said on Thursday, a second week of scant rain and confirmation the four-month season has got off to a slow start.
But experts said there was no urgent cause for concern, with crops not greatly affected by the quantity of rains at this early stage. More important for growth is rainfall distribution from mid-July after the monsoon hits the entire country.
"There is no reason to press any panic button at this stage as the rainfall activities are expected to improve," said A.K. Singh, deputy director-general of the state-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
India's weather office has forecast average rainfall for the whole June to September season - the third year in a row - to avoid a drought in one of the world's biggest consumers of rice, wheat and sugar, with a population of about 1.2 billion.
The monsoon rains are vital for farm output and economic growth as about 55 percent of the south Asian nation's arable land is rain-fed, and the farm sector accounts for about 15 percent of a nearly $2-trillion economy, Asia's third-biggest.
India is also one of the largest producers of rice, wheat, sugar and cotton.
Weather officials said the rains were expected to improve in next week.
"We expect increased rainfall activities over western parts and interior south India during the next three to four days," said M. Mahapatra, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department.
"There is a cyclonic pressure over the Arabian Sea which is expected to bring rains on the west coast and interior Karnataka and Maharashtra," Mahapatra said.
The meteorological department is expected to release its outlook for the rest of the monsoon during the third week of June. Weekly bulletins on rainfall continue during the season.
(Editing by Jo Winterbottom and James Jukwey)