Our Bureau

Difficult times

As many

as 22 estates in the State have closed down

Most other

tea estates are either just paying the store cash or carrying out operations to maintain their name

Kochi, Oct. 2

The Kerala Labour Minister, Mr P.K. Gurudasan, assured the Association of Planters of Kerala (APK) that the State Government was ready to do whatever was possible to protect this sector.

Addressing the 67th Annual General Meeting of the Association here, the Minister said that even though the income from exports was at lower levels, the plantation sector continued to maintain its significance as the maximum employment provider in the State. However, he said, shifting from tea to other crops due to un-remunerative prices should not lead to a decline in Kerala's share in the national tea output.

Struggle for survival

In his address, the APK Chairman, Mr V.P. Nambi, said that the plantation industry in general had been struggling for its survival during the last 8-9 years and the situation in Kerala had been severe. He said that 22 tea estates were closed and had not found any way of re-opening.

Many other tea estates are just paying the store cash and continue their operations. The bigger plantations, which have remained open, are carrying out the operations to maintain their `prestige'.

The plantation industry has not even been revived by the revival of the economy, he added.

There are external and internal factors for the downturn in the plantation industry. Saying that the industry did not have any control even on internal factors, he added that the State Government's moves were primarily directed towards providing alms to the workers, which had no effect on the industry's future, he said.

Mr Nambi said that the Union Minister of State for Commerce, Mr Jairam Ramesh, recently announced a replanting scheme for tea spending Rs 4,700 crore spread over 15 years. Of this 25 per cent has been earmarked for south India, but it is not known as to how much of this will be available for Kerala, he said.

"However, even if the State is not in a position to carve out a portion of it for the State, the industry has to consider development in tune with other States," he said.

Price rise

He pointed out that the upswing in the price of certain commodities, due to vagaries of weather and political unrest in other producing countries, should not be considered for wage related matters or any other issues related to the plantation. He said that more than 60 per cent of all cost involved in plantation industry are related to labour wages. This is the most important internal factor driving the prospects of the plantation industry. Among those who spoke on the occasion included Mr R.D. Nazeem, Executive Director (South), Tea Board of India, Coonnoor, Upasi President, Mr J.K. Thomas and APK Vice-Chairman, Mr P.T. Joseph. AVT Plantation Vice-President, Mr D.B. King was elected Chairman of the APK. Mr M.P. Cherian, Managing Director, Kotanad Plantations, is the Vice-Chairman.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 3, 2006)
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