Cotton import duty cut may help Pak-China, spur Indian farmers’ suicides, warns Maha panel

In a dark warning, a Maharashtra government appointed panel has warned that any move by the Centre to slash or withdraw import duty on cotton could benefit Pakistan-China and prove detrimental to the Indian agro-economy by spurring farmland suicides.

The Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari has sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue, requesting that before taking any decision to revoke import duty on cotton, the plight of the Indian cotton farmers should be borne in mind.

The VNSSM chief’s grouse stems from the recent lobbying by the Southern India Mills Association (SIMA) and the powerful textile-garment industry bigwigs who are trying to influence the Centre to slash or withdraw the import duty on cotton and cotton waste.

Tiwari – accorded a MoS status – said that in this year’s Union Budget, the government had announced a 11 per cent duty specifically to protect the interests of the Indian cotton farmers, spread largely in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

“Now, compared with the MSP on cotton at around Rs 6,000/quintal, the current market rate is in the range of Rs 8,000-11,000/quintal which has brought some relief to the peasantry reeling under the pandemic since the past two years,” said Tiwari.

However, the cotton and textile-garment industries keen to import cheaper cotton from Pakistan-China and dump it in the Indian markets, which will again plummet the prices below Rs 4000/quintal, not only spelling doom for the local farmers but also fueling a fresh crisis in the farmlands, he explained.

“We have requested the PM not to succumb to the pressures by the SIMA, the textile-garment industries and other vested interests by reducing or removing the cotton import duty at this critical stage… In order to ensure justice to Indian farmers, the VNSSM demands that the import duty be further hiked to 18 per cent to make it on par with the global markets,” a grim Tiwari told IANS.

He referred to the recent meetings of SIMA and textile-garment industries’ representatives with some Central ministers and officials, where they claimed that their imports account for only 4 or 5 per cent of superior quality cotton required by the industry that is not available here, or they have to pay a premium on it.

Tiwari countered these contentions saying for 2021-2022 cotton has kicked off with a comfortable opening stock of 75-lakh bales and an estimated production of over 360-lakh bales with positive prices at the start of the season due to the unprecedented volatility in international cotton prices.

“Any move to remove or slash import duties will not only directly benefit the economies of both Pakistan and China, but prove extremely disastrous to Indian farmers who could be left with no other options but to kill themselves,” cautioned Tiwari.

While the cotton and garment industries have already approached Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce & Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal and other top officials for relief, other sections are also busy building up indirect pressures by agitations like a strike on January 17-18.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

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