Agri Business

Atmanirbhar package fails to enthuse planters

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on May 19, 2020

Industry rues lack of immediate measures such as soft loans, MSP for all plantation crops

The nation’s plantation industry is little enthused by the Centre’s Atmanirbhar package to boost the economy. Industry insiders said the package lacks any immediate measure to revive the sector, which has been undergoing severe distress and financial crisis over the past few years due to severely hampered crop production in South India.

The tea production in South India for April is anticipated to be 37 per cent lower than the last five years’ average crop. Similarly, the export of plantation commodities such as tea (-65.84 per cent), coffee (-38.74 per cent) and spices (-25.53 per cent) reported a severe setback in value terms in April, said RM Nagappan, President, Upasi (United Planters' Association of Southern India).

As the region’s plantations are facing a severe financial crisis and struggling to make timely wage payments, the sector had hoped the government would come forward with some direct benefit measures to this agro industry that provides direct and indirect employment to 13.47 lakh workers, he said.

“We have sought a minimum support price (MSP) for all plantation crops such as tea, coffee, rubber and cardamom, and a financial package in the form of soft loans to mitigate the crisis due to the lockdown. We have also requested (the government) to disburse the pending subsidies. But nothing has materialised in the fiscal stimulus,” a highly placed source in the sector told BusinessLine.

“When the majority of the estates in Kerala have taken loans from banks and already exhausted their OD (overdraft) facility, how can we expect any further assistance from financial institutions?” the source added.

When the government was talking about ‘Make in India’, the planters expected some focus on ‘Grow in India’, so that cash crop sectors such as tea, coffee are rubber are supported, the source said.

Those in the industry also pointed out that the EPF cut benefits announced by the government will not apply to plantations due to the stringent criteria imposed.

They also cited a recent letter sent by a leading plantation company in Central Travancore, requesting workers to cooperate with a 20 per cent reduction in wages as well as to defer 50 per cent of the wages till commodity prices improve. The management has promised to make the balance payment once the price of natural rubber reaches ₹130 per kg.

Published on May 19, 2020

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