Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition walked out of the Assembly on Tuesday, accusing the government of pushing Kerala’s farmers into an abyss of irredeemable debt and despair.
Seeking an adjournment debate on the State’s crisis-ridden agriculture sector, Kerala Congress (Joseph) legislator Mons Joseph said the Left Democratic Front had gone back on its election promise to enhance State funding for the Rubber Production Incentive Scheme (RPIS) to guarantee farmers a minimum price of ₹250 for a kilogram of rubber.
Opposition Leader V.D. Satheesan said the farming sector faced several existential threats. The Indo-Pacific trade treaty would flood the market with imported rubber.
The Central government has further reduced the import duty for rubber by 10% to help tyre companies.
A consortium of tyre producers acquired 2.5 hectares of land in North Eastern India for large-scale rubber cultivation. The Centre’s replanting subsidy for rubber farmers was meagre.
He said mounting debt was a fact of life for farmers in Kerala. The price of fertilizer and pesticides has skyrocketed. Tea, pepper and cardamom rates have plummeted.
The government’s coconut and paddy procurement has failed. Vegetable and fruit farmers were also hard hit. Delayed payments by State-funded agricultural produce procurement agencies have forced farmers to lean heavily on loan sharks.
Mr. Satheesan said the government was of little help. The Kerala State Farmer’s Debt Relief Commission (KSFDRC) has stopped accepting applications from distressed farmers.
More than one lakh applications for debt relief remained unprocessed. Lakhs of farmers have faced debt recovery notices from banks.
The government should urgently convene a State-Level Banking Committee (SLBC) meeting to pre-empt the forfeiture of debtors’ property and give farmers more time to redeem their dues.
“The government should pull the State back from the brink of farmer suicides by taking urgent steps to mitigate the crisis”, he said.
Agriculture R. Prasad said the government had distributed ₹1,800 crores to 4.5 lakh rubber farmers under the RPIS scheme.
He blamed the Centre’s Neo-liberal policies for the crisis in the agriculture sector. The government was doing its best to alleviate the distress of rubber farmers.
It planned to use rubber for road resurfacing and start units to produce valued added agricultural products. Mr. Prasad urged the UDF to join hands with the ruling front to protest the Centre’s anti-farmer policies. Speaker A. N. Shamsheer rejected the UDF motion.