The Government of India is sensitive to the requirements of the plantation sector and does not treat it as just an activity related to trade and commerce, said J.S.Deepak, Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, here on Tuesday.

Participating as the Chief Guest in the 120th annual conference of the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI) at Glenview in Coonoor, he said New Delhi was conscious of the sector’s role in providing livelihood to lakhs of people and its employment potential.

Pointing out that the Government’s commitment to the sector was absolute and unconditional, he said that making plantations viable and profitable was the pre-requisite for providing livelihood and promoting exports.

Adverting to a plea made by the plantation sector to keep it out of the purview of the National Land Reforms Policy, he said that in view of its peculiar nature and benefits the Commerce Ministry had taken it up with the Ministry of Rural Development. He added that steps would be taken to prevent fragmentation. Plantations accounted for about 10 per cent of agricultural exports. They offered a good opportunity to earn in dollars.

Referring to the proposed reduction in funding by the Tea Board for research, Mr.Deepak said that it was only a reform and the objective was to make research need based. The Tea Marketing Control Order was being used to get better returns for small tea growers.

Stating that the 12th plan allocation for research on coffee was Rs. 250 crore, he said that both the Coffee and Spices Boards were in the process of being restructured. The challenge posed by the steady reduction in area under Arabica could be met by building a brand which in course of time should become a household name across the globe. Value addition should be promoted in the spice sector. He urged the planters to play a major role in protecting the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.

UPASI Chief G.J.Ancheril, who presided, said that though the current price levels of all the plantation crops appeared to be comfortable, the substantial increase in the cost of production was a matter of concern. Despite giving decent wages to the workers labour shortage was a major concern.

While implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in plantation areas appropriate changes should be made to help the plantation activities. Imported machinery should be made available at concessional tariff. The Government should extend all assistance and incentives to growers irrespective of the size of the holdings.

On problems confronting the coffee industry, he said that compared to other coffee growing countries like Brazil and Vietnam, focus on research and development in India was inadequate. The move to discontinue the Quality Upgradation Programme in tea should be reconsidered. Efforts should be made to prevent escalation of human-animal conflict in plantations. UPASI vice-president Peter Mathias spoke.

Mr. Deepak distributed trophies to winners of the 9th edition of The Golden Leaf India Awards-Southern Tea Competition held in Coonoor during March 2013.

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