Ban coffee imports: Chandre Gowda

BANGALORE, NOV. 15. The Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. D. B. Chandre Gowda, told coffee planters on Wednesday that the Centre had to ban coffee imports immediately.

Speaking at the 42nd Annual Conference of the Karnataka Planters' Association (KPA) here, he acknowledged that the State's plantation industry was going through a rough phase. Once WTO (World Trade Organisation) norms were in place, even increasing the import duty from the present 35 per cent to the bound rate of 100 per cent would not help the situation, he said.

``For the industry in the State (as elsewhere) to recover, the Centre must ban imports completely,'' the minister stressed.

Replying to the KPA Chairman, Mr. D. Vinod Shivappa's request for more tax concessions to the plantation industry, the minister pointed out that the S. M. Krishna government had always conceded the planters' demands. ``In fact, on October 31, Mr. Krishna wrote to the Union Commerce Ministry urging them to help the State's coffee industry,'' he said.

Mr. Chandre Gowda said Mr. Krishna had wanted the Union Government to sanction Rs. 200 crores under the ACPC (Association of Coffee Producing Countries) Global Coffee Retention Plan to stabilise international coffee prices.

``What else can the State Government do? You must understand the prevailing situation. The agriculture sector as a whole is facing a crisis. Just yesterday, the Cabinet decided to set up a Rs. 100-crore revolving fund for the agriculture sector,'' the minister said.

Referring to the temporary suspension of the Karnataka Agricultural Income Tax (KAIT) as suggested by the Union Minister of State for Textiles, Mr. V. Dhananjaya Kumar, Mr. Chandre Gowda believed it was up to the Union Government to examine what had affected the country's agriculture sector. The Centre should change its `No Income Tax' policy for the sector, he added.

Mr. Chandre Gowda also read out Mr. Krishna's speech on the occasion. ``The Government is aware of planters' problems and we have already approached the Centre for aid,'' the Chief Minister said in his speech.

As for planters' appeal for better infrastructure in the Malnad area, Mr. Krishna said Rs. 1,200 crores of Rs. 12,000 crores sanctioned by the World Bank would be used for developing roads. ``The Malnad Development Board will use some of that money to improve the roads in the region,'' the message added.

Moreover, there was a Cabinet Sub-Committee set up to monitor reforms and privatisation of the power sector. ``By December-end, I assure you quality power,'' Mr. Chandre Gowda told the planters. Innovative marketing: Mr. Chandre Gowda urged the planters to go in for ``intensive marketing'' to increase the domestic consumption of coffee. ``Why don't you sell one-gm sachets of instant coffee priced at Re. 1? After all, we have the immensely popular shampoo sachets as proof of the method's success'', he added.

Earlier, Mr. Dhananjaya Kumar attributed the coffee crisis to the lack of an internal market for coffee/tea. He believed that planters should understand and react accordingly to the changed situation. ``You must realise that higher production costs call for cuts on your personal spending,'' he said.

Mr. Kumar made it clear that he was not advocating the cause of the WTO but stressed that the WTO was ``our own creation''. Hence, the State's coffee/tea growers had to gear themselves to meet global challenges. He ruled out any expansion of the coffee- growing areas (as proposed by the KPA), but felt that the import duty could be increased from 35 per cent to 100 per cent.