Notification endangers existence of estates, say cardamom growers

K. Raju
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80 per cent of country’s cardamom is from the estates of Idukki district

A farmer nursing a cardamom plant in a plantation in Idukki district.— File Photo
A farmer nursing a cardamom plant in a plantation in Idukki district.— File Photo

The Union Environment Ministry’s notification to turn approximately 60, 000 square kilometres of the Western Ghats across six States into an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) has aroused fear in the minds of cardamom growers of Theni, who have their plantations in the contiguous district of Idukki in Kerala.

They apprehend that the notification would endanger the existence of several estates, mostly held by Tamils in Idukki district, and leave thousands of daily wage earners in Theni district jobless.

As per the notification, mines, quarries, thermal power plants and polluting industries are banned in the entire ESA.

Other projects will be allowed only with the consent of the gram sabhas in the zone.

An ESA is a bio-climatic unit in the Western Ghats wherein human impacts have locally caused irreversible changes in the structure of biological communities and their natural habitats, says a study titled ‘Ecologically Sensitive Areas in Western Ghats.’

At present, 80 per cent of the country’s total production of cardamom is from the estates of Idukki district, nestled in the Western Ghats.

About 1.2 lakh acres are under cardamom cultivation in Idukki of which 70,000 acres are registered areas. Production is better in newly expanded unregistered areas owing to soil fertility.

The dense cardamom producing centres such as Udumbanchola, Peermedu and Devikulam taluks come under core or red zone under the notification.

Planters are worried that this would mean displacement of farmers, following stoppage of agricultural activities.

Planters fear that using the notification, issued on November 16 on the basis of the report submitted by the High Level Working Group on Western Ghats headed by K. Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission, officials would insist on production of cardamom without the use of chemical-based fertilizers and impose a ban on use of farm equipment and construction activities.

At present, a majority of estates have age-old plants that need external application of inputs for plant protection and yield improvement, they say. “A sharp increase in production cost, slump in prices of cardamom in domestic and international markets and fall in yield have already burdened farmers,” says C. Sadasiva Subramanian, secretary of Kerala Cardamom Producers’ Association.

“The objective of the notification is to protect forest cover. In fact, cardamom planters have to be green lovers and grow trees compulsorily because cardamom plants need sufficient shade to grow and for better yield. If one tree fell, we grow three trees. The 15-km-long road from Cumbum Mettu to many places in Idukki has excellent green cover,” he adds.

Exports down

Cardamom production has witnessed a decline to 14,000 tonnes in 2012-13, from 15,000 tonnes the previous year, owing to a severe drought in Idukki region. Cardamom exports too fell to 2,250 tonnes in 2012-13 against 4,650 tonnes in 2011-12. India’s exports too went down in 2012-13, say cardamom traders.

Yield affected

Heavy rain has already affected the yield this season. Prices are also not encouraging, says T.K.S.M. Udaya Kumar, president, Cardamom Planters’ Association.

  • 60, 000 square kilometres of Western Ghats to be turned into an Ecologically Sensitive Area

  • Mines, quarries, thermal power plants banned in ESA; other projects with consent of gram sabhas




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