Caught in a bind over the delay in political action to rescue the embattled rubber growers of Central Travancore, the Kerala Congress parties, which have ostensibly espoused pro-farmer politics, are pulling out all the stops to ensure some relief to the sector in the upcoming State budget.
As part of it, the Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani has forwarded a memorandum to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, reiterating the party’s demand to increase the stabilisation price of rubber to ₹250 a kilogram.
According to Mr. Mani, the fall in natural rubber prises had affected about 12-lakh small-scale growers in the State. Attributing the sharp fall in prices to unconditional imports, he warned that most of them would give up cultivation if the government failed to raise the ceiling of the price stability scheme of ₹170 per kg to at least ₹250.
“As per estimates by the Rubber Board, the cost of production one kilogram of rubber stands around ₹171 crore. The Swaminathan Commission report, on the other hand, stipulates that the price stability should be fixed at least 50% above the production cost,” he said.
Despite sitting in the Opposition, the Kerala Congress led by P.J. Joseph too has been making consistent efforts to bring the crisis experienced by the rubber growers to the State government’s attention and called for a hike in the price stabilisation fund. The party’s working chairman P.C. Thomas, on his part, has sent e-mails to the Prime Minister of India as well as the Union Ministers of Finance and Commerce, seeking to prevent ‘deliberate attempts’ by some lobbies to bring down the price of natural rubber.
“The purpose of importing rubber at higher prices is to keep the domestic prices low,” he said, while also calling on the Union government to convene a conference of the various stake holders including the rubber farmers.
In Central Travancore, where socio- political discourses are inextricably linked to fortunes of the plantation sector, the crash in natural rubber prices has naturally assumed a political dimension with shielding the growers from the price vagaries suddenly becoming the top priority of the sparring Kerala Congress factions of late. For, the parties are well aware of the fact that a brewing of discontent in the State’s rubber heartland is capable of tripping their political fortunes.
The concerns of these regional parties are also exacerbated by the displeasure of the Catholic church, which has developed a more outspoken communication strategy towards these outfits of late.