Vents anger against politicians, Campco for not ‘standing up for nut farmers’

A farmers’ organisation is planning to take the legal route against the proposed ban on areca nut in the country.

Listing out the plan of action, advocate and State vice-president of the Congress farmer cell, Sachin Meega, said the court had been “misdirected” by the Union Health Department officials who linked the ill-effects of gutka (that contains tobacco) with areca nut consumption.

“However, there is a 2002 report of the Central Food Testing and Research Institute [CFTRI], Mysore, that states that areca nut is not harmful. This had been submitted to the High Court then, and the case had come in the favour of areca nut,” he told the participants of a meeting organised by the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), Hasiru Sene against the proposed areca nut ban. He said the KRRS would implead to make it a party when the matter would come for hearing in the Supreme Court in January.

The group would also submit a 1989 report by the scientists of the Cancer Biology Laboratory of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who fed areca nut paste to mice for a year and found no evidence of carcinogenicity, he said.

“We will ask for an SC-monitored test. And if they agree, the case will surely come in our favour,” said Mr. Meega.

Cost of the trial remains a concern. In a recent drive for funds, KRRS managed to get less than Rs. 20,000 out of the targeted Rs. 5 lakh needed for the Supreme Court proceedings. The meeting sought to disburse information about the legal process since 2002 — when the Ratnam Committee pointed out to the ill-effects of areca nut – and the subsequent proceedings in the Supreme Court.

Farmers form Hassan, Chikmagalur, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada district attended the meet.

Citing general research, M.G. Satyanarayana, vice-president of the All India Areca Growers Association, said only 0.15 per cent of areca is cancerous — a figure that is far lower than tobacco (12 to 17 per cent) and alcohol (6 to 27 per cent). “Why is only areca nut being targeted? We need a community struggle, as the legal struggle is too costly for us,” he said.

There was considerable anger against organisations such as Campco and other areca nut co-operative societies for not being proactive in defending the crop and its growers from the start of the proceedings. “Rs. 2 crore was allocated (to Arecanut Research and Development Foundation under the auspices of Campco) a decade ago to search for alternative uses of areca nut. Apart from a technical fair, Campco hasn’t done anything using this fund,” said B. Shridar Shetty, district Executive President of KRRS. Similarly, the farmers, including KRRS State president Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, vented their ire against politicians for bickering over blame instead of chalking out solutions.

Before the programme, the farmers paid rich tributes to Varanasi Subraya Bhat, founder of Campco, and K.S.N. Niddanaiah, a KRRS activist from Savanoor, Puttur taluk, both who died on Friday.

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