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Thiruvananthapuram, March 15

THE duty-free import of pepper from Sri Lanka has hit Kerala badly, the Agriculture Minister, Mrs K.R. Gouri Amma, told the State Assembly on Tuesday.

She said the State Government had urged the Centre to insist on certification of origin for import from Sri Lanka and to test the pepper to determine its geographical identity. Also, the imports should be made only through the Kochi port.

The Minister feared that pepper was being dumped into the State in the guise of imports from Sri Lanka under a SAARC agreement. The sharp rise in production in that country from 4,740 tonnes in 1999 to 12,600 tonnes in 2002 was suspicious, she said.

The Government has sought Central subsidy for replanting pepper vines. Besides, the State's request for interest cuts on agricultural loans was yet to be conceded, the Minister said.

Pilgrim circuit: The Tourism Minister, Mr K.C. Venugopal, told the House that the Government proposed to link the pilgrim centres in the State under a circuit tourism project.

He said talks would be held with the Transport Minister to network the pilgrim centres through KSRTC services.

Bekal would be included in the circuit tourism project, while the sacred groves in Malabar would be developed under a separate scheme.

The Archaeology Department was carrying out the renovation of temples with the focus on preserving their traditional architecture.

The temples suffering from lack of revenue would also be developed. The Tourism Department was ready to set up a complex at Sabarimala if land was made available, Mr Venugopal said.

The Minister allayed the members' apprehensions that the pilgrim centres were being developed as tourist destinations. On the other hand, the department was only trying to improve the infrastructure and transport facilities in these centres for the benefit of the pilgrims, he said.

The Food and Civil Supplies Minister, Mr Adoor Prakash, said the adulteration of food items in the State was on the decline. Out of 11,731 samples tested in 2002-03, the adulterated items were to the tune of 407. But, out of 15,185 samples tested in 2003-04, the number came down to 394. And out of 13,624 samples tested up to January this year, only 118 items were found adulterated, the Minister said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 16, 2005)
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