NEW DELHI - India's gold imports are set to grow by a quarter in April from a year ago, the first rise since August, and demand should strengthen ahead of festivals later in the year, the head of metals trading firm MMTC Ltd said on Tuesday.

State-run MMTC is likely to import 9-10 tonnes of gold this month, helping lift the country's April imports to 30 tonnes, Chairman Sanjiv Batra said on Tuesday.

The Bombay Bullion Association (BBA) has estimated imports in the first half of April were 10 tonnes, reversing a trend of very low imports in the previous two months.

In April 2008, India had imported 24 tonnes of gold, data from the BBA shows.

We have the Akshaya Tritiya festival and there will be huge sales... and (also) due to the marriage season, Batra told reporters at a press conference.

In March there were no imports against 21 tonnes a year earlier, while in February 0.8 tonnes was imported against 23 tonnes a year earlier, BBA data shows. In January, India imported 1.9 tonnes of gold, down 89 percent from a year earlier, BBA data shows. Batra said demand from India would pick up further on major festivals later in the year, with the peak of buying expected in October for Dhanteras, an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar to buy gold, and Diwali.

(Demand) could grow very fast by Diwali, Batra said, but added it was too early to forecast 2009 demand.

It's too early, there are many variables.

Gold prices MAUc1 in Indian rupees hit an all-time high on Feb. 20 at 16,040 rupees ($318) per 10 grams as the rupee weakened against the dollar. They have since eased, trading on Tuesday at 14,446 rupees, and Batra said prices may rally again.

People feel prices are near the bottom, he said. There may be some downturn, but not so much. Possibility of upward movement is much more. ($1=50.4250 rupees) (Reporting by C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Himangshu Watts and John Mair)