Staff Correspondent

`The Rs. 287.10-crore package has failed in bringing relief'

Coffee prices have fallen and drought conditions have lasted long White stem borer disease has become a major cause of concern

HASSAN: Coffee growers in Malnad region continue to be a worried lot. The Rs. 287.10-crore relief package announced by the Union Government last year seems to have failed to achieve its purpose.

According to B.A. Jagannath, convener of the joint action committee, there has been no change in the plight of growers because of the fall in coffee prices and prolonged drought conditions, which has led to pest attacks.

Mr. Jagannath told presspersons here on Saturday that the marginal rise in prices in the international market and the debt relief package had failed to bring relief to coffee-growers in Hassan, Chikmagalur and Kodagu districts.

White stem borer disease had become a major cause of concern among the growers, as it destroyed over 50 per cent of the Arabica variety in the three districts. As much as 50 per cent of the growers could not deposit their share of Rs. 95.70 crore to avail themselves of the Rs. 287.1-crore package, he added.

Production had come down to 150 kg an acre. This, coupled with increase in cultivation cost, had left the growers in distress, he said. Mr. Jagannath accused commercial banks of not cooperating with the growers. Banks, which had made huge profits from the sector, were not prepared to support the industry now.

Unfavourable weather

The situation in the coffee industry now was grim with the weather being unfavourable.

Many accounts had become non-performing assets (NPA) and referred to the Debts Recovery Tribunal (DRT), and the property of the growers was getting attached and auctioned, he said.

When the Union Government announced a relief package, most of the growers paid the one-third interest by borrowing from other sources.

Frustrated with the situation, traditional growers had started leaving, handing over their land to big companies.

Mr. Jagannath urged the Union Government to take steps to save the industry. It was necessary to extend the subsidy for massive re-plantation of Arabica and Robusta varieties at Rs. 20 a plant a year for five years for those who owned 60 hectares of plantation. His other demands included enhancing finance for interest subsidy from Rs. 30,000 and Rs. 20,000 a hectare to Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 40,000 a hectare for Arabica and Robusta plantations respectively; subsidy for intensive cultivation for growers; price insurance scheme providing 50 per cent subsidy; support for Comark; exemption of import duty on pesticides and fungicides and social security for workers.

Mr. Jagannath urged the Government to reduce the burden of SCTL accounts on the growers. He sought a one-time settlement for growers with regard to SCTL.

Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath had convened a meeting of bankers on June 9. It would be attended by Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh, Mr. Jagannath added.