March 13, 2016

Sericulture Farmers Hold Dharna in Delhi

HUNDREDS of sericulture farmers from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh assembled in Delhi at Jantar Mantar on February 29 and had a day-long dharna. Sericulture farmers are in an acute crisis due to the BJP government decision to cut import duty of raw silk drastically to just 10 percent. Earlier UPA government had reduced import duty from 33 percent to 5 percent and then due to protests increased to 15 percent. This was reduced to 10 percent. This has led to dumping of cheap silk from China and also illegally through Nepal and other neighbouring countries. Many farmers have been forced to commit suicide in Karnataka due to indebtedness.

India is the second largest producer of silk in the world, next only to China. Sericulture and silk industry provides employment to more than one crore families involving sericulture farmers, seed producers, chawki rearers, silk reelers and other stakeholders producing annually about 28,000 mts of silk.

According to an assessment there is a requirement of about 32,000 mts of silk in the country, thus about 3500-4000 mts of silk is imported from other silk producing countries, mainly from China. In India, Karnataka is the major contributing state producing annually about 10,000 mts of silk. In Karnataka alone, it provides gainful employment to about 35-40 lakhs of families to lead their life. Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand and other states also produce silk and across India the livelihoods of more than one crore families are dependent on this sector. There is sufficient scope for expansion of this agro-industry, creating employment and livelihood opportunities for rural population.

The central and the state governments discuss at length about creating employment in the country and announce several policies for its development. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that different governments at the centre by amending the export and import policies are providing large benefits to the capitalist traders of the industry located at Varanasi, Ahmedabad and Surat at the expense of sericulture farmers and other dependents on the sector.  Drastic cuts in the import duty, allowing silk inflow through Nepal, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries by not keeping a strict vigil in the borders are some of the reasons wherein the sericulture farmers and sericulture industry, which could have flourished well are being pushed into a crisis.

Whenever some sustainable improvement is seen, dumping of silk from China created panic during 2002 and the cocoon prices drastically fell to Rs 50/Kg - to 60/Kg. Due to large scale agitations by the sericulture farmers and reelers, anti-dumping duty was levied on imported silk and thus the silk/cocoon prices were stabilised to some extent. The UPA-II government however, lowered the import duty from 31 percent to 5 percent resulting once again in crash in prices of cocoons and silk and thus destabilised the sericulture industry. Large scale agitations were held and the import duty was increased to 15 percent. This gave some relief to the stakeholders due to increase in prices of cocoons and silk to some extent. The present BJP government once again reduced the import duty to 10 percent from April 2015. The direct repercussion was drastic decrease in prices of cocoons and silk. Suicides by sericulturists, which were unheard in the field of sericulture, occurred. The Karnataka state government constituted a technical committee which has given several assurances but no remedy for the problems of sericulture farmers. Even in other states no steps have been taken.

Under these circumstances the following demands of sericulture farmers were raised in the dharna.

·                     To revert the import duty to its original 31 percent.

·                     The hundreds of crores of losses incurred by the sericulture farmers due to decreasing the import duty has to be made good, 70 percent of which should be given by the central government.

·                     To make this employment generating industry sustainable, minimum support price may be declared based on cost of production on the formula of Dr Swaminathan Commission.

·                     To study the accurate silk production, requirement, imports and export, an agency may be identified.

·                     Considering the employment generating capacity, sufficient funds may be provided for the sustainable development of the sericulture industry and its modernisation during 2016-17.

The meeting was addressed by Jitendra Chaudhury, CPI(M) MP, KH Muniyappa, former minister and Congress MP as well DK Suresh, Muddu Hanumegowda, Chandrappa, Dhruv Narayan, MPs from Karnataka. AIKS leaders GC Byyareddy, P Krishnaprasad, Yashwant, Mallur Shivanna, AIAWU president Thirunavakkarasu and others also addressed the dharna. The dharna was inaugurated by Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of All India Kisan Sabha.