* Refined palm oil imports surge 46 pct on year
* Population growth to support higher import demand
* Vegoil imports seen 4.9 pct up in 2012/13 (Adds details, quotes, background)
By Ratnajyoti Dutta
NEW DELHI, Nov 15 (Reuters) - India's imports of refined palm oil fell sharply in October from the previous month, as an import duty hike aimed at protecting the local refining industry from cheaper Indonesian supplies of the edible oil took effect.
India, the world's largest buyer of vegetable oils, imported 61,544 tonnes of refined palm oil in October, according to trade data released on Thursday, a decline of 45 percent from 111,163 tonnes in September.
"Refined palm oil imports fell on fading festive season demand, while the increase in the cost of imports due to a duty hike supported the lower monthly imports," said Naveen Garg, a Delhi-based trade analyst.
A Reuters survey had forecast average vegetable oil imports of 923,125 tonnes in October, with 65,625 tonnes of refined palm oils.
India's refined palm oil imports rose 46 percent to 1.6 million tonnes in the marketing year 2011/12 after top producer Indonesia changed its tax structure in October last year in an attempt to promote its processing industries.
Total vegetable oil imports in October were 1,036,107 tonnes, up from 993,912 tonnes in the previous month, the Solvent Extractors' Association (SEA) said in a statement.
The surge in refined palm oil imports pushed total vegetable oil imports 17.2 percent to a record high of 10.2 million tonnes in the year to October.
India buys mainly palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia. It also imports a small quantity of soyoil from Brazil and Argentina.
In 2011/12, India's palm oil imports stood at 7.7 million tonnes while soyoil imports stood at 1.1 million tonnes.
Traders said India's vegetable oil imports are expected to rise for the second straight year to about 10.7 million tonnes in 2012/13, up 4.9 percent from a year ago.
"The higher import projection is based on increasing demand and low domestic supplies," said Sandeep Bajoria, chief executive of the Mumbai-based Sunvin Group.
A population that is growing at the rate of about 19 million people a year, along with an increasingly wealthy middle class, support higher demand.
"I see at least half a million tonne rise in the vegetable oil imports during 2012/13," Bajoria said. (Editing by Miral Fahmy)