MUMBAI, April 8 (Reuters) - India's silver imports surged by 260% in February to a record high, as lower duties encouraged large purchases from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), government and industry officials told Reuters, adding they were on track to increase by 66% this year.

Higher demand in India, the world's biggest silver consumer, could support global prices trading near their highest in three years.

India imported a record 2,295 metric tons of silver in February, up from 637 tons in January, said a government official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

In February, India imported 939 tons from UAE, as traders bought large volumes to benefit from a lower duty, the official said.

The country's silver imports surged to 2,932 tons in the first two months of 2024 compared to 3,625 tons for all of 2023, according to provisional data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The imports in the first two months of 2024 were much more than required and pushed Indian prices into a discount, forcing banks to nearly stop imports in March, a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bullion importing bank said.

Chirag Thakkar, CEO of Amrapali Group Gujarat, a leading silver importer, said the industry had replenished stocks in January and February after having depleted them in 2023.

"Indian imports are cyclical in nature. In one year, imports may be very high, and then the following year they may fall. Since imports fell in 2023 after record buying in 2022, we can expect imports to pick up in 2024," Thakkar said.

India's imports could rise to 6,000 tons in 2024, from last year's 3,625 tons, driven by robust demand from the fabrication and solar industries, he said.

Thakkar said people were also buying metal for investment purposes, believing it will provide higher returns than gold. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; editing by Barbara Lewis)