Hundreds of farmers from across the State led by the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha blocked the main entrance of the New Mangalore Port on Monday in a symbolic protest against the Union Government’s policy allowing the duty-free import of edible oils. The agitation was also supported by leaders of farmers from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The agitation was timed just ahead of the seventh ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation from November 30 to December 2 in Geneva, Switzerland. “A strong lobby, led by the U.S. and other developed nations, is going to push for further relaxation of trade barriers, particularly in the farming sector, in developing countries such as India,” explained the spokesman of the South India Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements S. Kannaiyan.
Explaining why the protest was held outside the New Mangalore Port, the State president of the Kerala Coconut Farmers’ Association, P. Ravindranathan, said that the Mangalore port was one of the major inlets for imported edible oil on the south-west coast.
He said that the Kerala High Court had recently ordered a stay on the import of edible oil through the ports in Kerala.
“After this blockade was imposed, all the oil is being imported through the Mangalore port,” he said.
Pointing out that the Union Government had lifted all import duties on edible oils, KRRS State president Kodihalli Chandrashekar said that the cheaply imported oil from countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia was ruining the livelihood of over one crore farmers in 13 districts in the State.
Demanding that the State Government emulate the Kerala Government, Mr. Chandrashekar termed the Free Trade Agreement inked by the Union Government with other south-east Asian countries for the import of edible oils “unconstitutional.” He pointed out that farming was a State subject and the Union Government could not take a unilateral decision on the subject.
Demanding that the import duty on edible oil be raised to at least 150 per cent he said, “The present policy of not charging any duty is not only absurd but also criminal.” He also demanded that Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa make a representation to the Union Government calling for the imposition of import duty on edible oil.
Mr. Chandrashekar announced that the KRRS would be participating in a meeting of the All India Farmers’ Coordination Committee in Delhi in early December to chalk out a course of countrywide agitations against the Government’s “new liberal and pro-capitalist” agenda. He also expressed doubts over the possibility of any coordination with the Left parties for the upcoming agitation.
“The Left parties had lost their credibility after the anti-people and pro-capitalist policies that they have been following in West Bengal.” However, he said that in the best interests of the country’s farming community, a decision on coordinated action would be discussed at the meeting in Delhi.
The agitation on Monday had its tense moments after the port authorities tried to sneak out some transport vehicles even as the blockade was in place, drawing the ire of the protesters, who intensified their stir and physically blocked the exit of some vehicles.