Jairam Ramesh’s dream project falls flat

B.V.S. Bhaskar
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Ambitious rubber plantation project launched in 2008 in East Godavari fails

The Integrated Tribal Development Agency’s rubber plantation project that was launched amid fanfare in 2008 by Union Minister Jairam Ramesh is now on the verge of closure.

The Rs. 148-crore project was initiated by Mr. Ramesh, who is visiting East Godavari district on Sunday to launch the Aadhaar-linked cash transfer scheme.

The rubber plantation project was taken up on 31,000 acres in Rampachodavaram, Maredumilli and Y. Ramavaram mandals. The Union Minister had stated that the Rubber Board took up the project on the request of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the then Chief minister. While half of the cost was to be borne by the State government, 47 per cent by the Rubber Board and the rest by the beneficiaries in the form of labour.

ITDA had sent 30 tribal persons to Kottayam and other places in Kerala for training in rubber plantation and tapping. About 2.50 lakh stumps were imported from Kerala to be planted on 1,100 acres.

Initially, the cost was estimated at Rs.148 crore for which ITDA had reached an agreement with Kutty Yankle Rubber stem suppliers, Kottayyam, Kerala. In the first year, the ITDA developed plantation on 707 acres out of the 1,000 acres of the targeted area. The survival rate was only 40 per cent. In their report, scientists from the Rubber Board made it clear that the climatic conditions in East Godavari district --even in a HNTC greenhouse -- were not suitable for rubber plantation. Disregarding their advice, the ITDA, the next year, imported 17.36 lakh budded stumps to plant on 10,000 acres in association with the Horticulture Department. The supplier had promised 80 per cent survival rate but it did not exceed 30 per cent. For protection of stumps for four years, the ITDA engaged 400 workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the three mandals.

The Horticulture Department reported that of the 5,767 acres of plantation stumps on only 1,000 survived.

Labourers not paid

Also, the labourers failed to get NREGS payments except in Rampachodavaram mandal. Labour from 25 villages in Y. Ramavaram and Maredumilli mandals complained several times to ITDA and horticulture Officers about non-payment of their wages on the pretext of failure of plants. However, the suppliers are said to have received the total amount, including EMD.

“The inquiry conducted by the then Joint Collector K. Sasidhar did not found any fault with the then ITDA Project Officer, Yogita Rana, but a horticulture official was made a scapegoat, alleged former ZP Chairman Ch. Venugopalakrishna, who was present at launch of the programme.

“We don’t know how much public money was misappropriated. It could be in the region of Rs. 20 crore. The wrongdoers have escaped. No recoveries have been made in this case. The project is a failure as very few plants have survived,” Rajya Sabha member T. Ratnabai said.



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