Loss of around Rs.60 crore over the last 12 days

The ongoing agitations across the Kumily border over the Mullaperiyar dam issue have hit the cardamom industry in Kerala. The strike has proved expensive to the industry which has lost nearly Rs. 60 crore over the last 12 days.

Planters, plantation workers, transporters and industries associated with cardamom have all been hit by the strike. All activities related to the industry, including auction of cardamom and upkeep of plantations, have come to a standstill. Planters from across the border are even abstaining from visiting their holdings in Kumily, fearing repercussions in their hometowns.

“Cardamom auction has been stopped since December 5 and a few lorries loaded with the spice are waiting in our godown for the routes to be opened,” said P. C. Punnose, general manager of Kerala Cardamom Processing and Marketing Company (KCPMC) Ltd., Kumily. The company is a joint initiative of the cardamom growers of the locality.

“Auctions are held round-the-week and each day, at least Rs.5 crore worth cardamom would go under the hammer. As the vehicular traffic to Tamil Nadu via Kumily has been called off, auction has been stopped,” said Mr. Punnose.

K. Siyavudheen Ahamed of Cumbum, Tamil Nadu, is one among the many planters from the neighbouring State who has chosen not to travel to Kumily since the trouble broke out.

“Earlier, I used to visit my plantations once in two days. However, I have not travelled to Idukki since the escalation of tension,” said Mr. Ahamed who is also the joint managing director of the KCPMC.

Incidentally, nearly 60 per cent of the plantations in the district are owned by natives of Tamil Nadu and cardamom is cultivated in around 33,000 hectares. The huge workforce of plantation workers from Tamil Nadu, which crosses the border every day to Kerala, has also stopped travelling fearing violent repercussions. This has also affected the upkeep of plantations. It is estimated that around 20,000 workers come to the plantations in Idukki through the inter-State border points of the district. In Kumily, nearly 1,000 vehicles ferry them to worksites and back every day. The livelihood of the workers directly employed in the plantations and those in allied sectors have also been hit by the agitation.

The stoppage of auction has hit the planters and workers alike, pointed out T.T. Jose, a member of the Spices Growers Association, Vandanmedu. The recurring expenses, including the salary of the workers and purchase of manure and insecticides, are managed from the revenue earned from the daily auction of cardamom. The regular income of the planters has been stopped following the agitations, he said.

Though it is absolutely safe for people including those from Tamil Nadu to travel, stay and work in Kumily, a sense of insecurity has crept into the minds of those from the neighbouring State. The planters from Tamil Nadu too are scared to come to Kerala. This has resulted in management issues in some plantations, Mr. Jose said.

Besides the casual labourers, a section of the white collar employees from Tamil Nadu too are abstaining from work following the tension. The 17 employees of the company have not turned up since the beginning of the agitation though it is quite peaceful in the Kerala side of the border, said Mr. Punnose.

Planters are waiting for the day when traffic would be resumed to revive the business. But no one knows when it would happen.

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