’50 years on, rubber growers still await better prices’

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 18 (IANS) The Kerala Assembly on Tuesday saw 83-year-old veteran legislator K.M. Mani recalling his second speech that he made on the floor of the House way back in 1967.

“In the very second speech that I made in 1967, I had told the House that the Tariff Commission-fixed rate of rubber at Rs 20 per kg was too low, and 50 years later, I have to repeat the same thing that the price of rubber at Rs 113.50 per kg is too low. But no action is coming forth from any quarters,” said Mani seeking leave for an adjournment motion to discuss the issue.

Mani has been representing Palai assembly constituency since 1967 and has never faced defeat.

“The only reason that I can attribute to the sad state of affairs is that the rubber farmers in Kerala are not united. Since the tyre manufacturers are united, they have their way,” he observed.

Mani continued: “Two years back, the price of rubber was Rs 240 per kg and today it has dropped to Rs 113.50. It was P. Chidambaram in the UPA government who played truant by relaxing import restrictions on rubber, and now the state’s Left government has been unable to do anything. The Modi government is also not doing anything,” said Mani.

He said it was in the Oommen Chandy government that he as the Finance Minister had come out with a price stabilisation fund for rubber growers when Rs 150 per kg was fixed as the benchmark price.

“In my budget 2015-16, I had set aside Rs 300 crore for rubber farmers, and they were to be compensated from that money. There were times when the price fell as low as Rs 88 per kg and we gave each farmer Rs 62 as subsidy, so the farmer got Rs 150 per kg. But, the present Left government is not taking up this issue with due seriousness,” added Mani.

Replying to Mani, state Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunilkumar said that Kerala has 12 lakh rubber farmers, and the government has asked all those who have not registered to do so to get the subsidy.

“Ever since we assumed office four months back, a total of Rs 242 crore has been paid to farmers as part of the price stabilisation fund,” Sunilkumar said.

The state government has on two occasions brought the pathetic condition of rubber farmers to the notice of the Centre and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has scheduled a meeting of top officials to discuss this issue very soon, the minister informed.

Sunilkumar also pointed out that they have decided to set up two rubber parks — at Kottayam and Pathanamthitta — to bring cheer to the rubber farmers.

State PWD Minister G. Sudhakaran told the House that orders have been given for 50,000 tonnes of rubberised bitumen to the Bharat Petroleum Company, so that rubber produced here can be diverted for that.

Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that it was only the Congress-led UDF government that had done justice to the rubber farmers, which came through the setting up of the price stabilisation fund by them under the Chandy government.

“The present state government has failed to do justice and the Modi government is only on an announcement spree, with no action forthcoming. Even the Rubber Board appears to be going to be wound up by the Centre,” said Chennithala.

“If there is no strong intervention, then the rubber farmers here will face what the coco farmers faced some years ago,” he added and to protest the “callous attitude” of the state and Centre, led the opposition out of the House.

–IANS

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