KOTTAYAM : With the politics of rubber poised to take centre stage in the Lok Sabha elections, especially in Central Travancore, Finance Minister K N Balagopal made a strategic move to douse the anger of rubber farmers by increasing the support price of rubber from Rs 170 to Rs 180 per kg. Though a hike of Rs 10 in the Rubber Production Incentive Scheme (RPIS) offered respite to the KC(M) in the run-up to the LS polls, it appears farmers are unsatisfied.
Despite facing severe financial crisis, Balagopal included the increase in rubber subsidy in the budget due to immense pressure from KC (M), fearing setback in the LS polls in the heartland of rubber. He emphasised Kerala is the only government taking steps to resolve the crisis faced by rubber farmers, and said the move to increase the subsidy was made after the Centre ignored the state’s request to raise the amount to Rs 250 per kg.
“We need the support of the Centre to further increase rubber subsidy. The state increased the subsidy even in a situation where funds cannot be allocated for routine activities,” Balagopal told reporters after the budget speech.
However, initial response from the farming community was not encouraging. The National Consortium of Rubber Producers’ Societies (NCRPS) expressed scepticism, saying the move will not have a significant impact on plantation sector due to rubber production cost staying above Rs 200 per kg.
“Since the support price hike does not have retrospective effect, farmers will only get it from July. Additionally, the Rubber Board itself has calculated the cost of production of rubber at Rs 192, making the Rs 180 per kg support price insufficient to benefit farmers,” said Babu Joseph, NCRPS general secretary.
Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan said increasing the subsidy by only Rs 10 per kg was a mockery of the farmers. All opposition parties, including Kerala Congress and BJP, also expressed dissatisfaction with the minimal increase.
In a significant blow to the government, Christian communities also rejected the increase in rubber subsidies.
“The government must fulfil its election manifesto promise of ensuring a price of Rs 250 per kg for rubber. Farmers cannot perceive this as an increase. The government should establish a support price based on the production cost,” stated Jacob G Palakkappilly, the spokesperson for Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC).