Kochi, Oct 1 (UNI) Rejecting Kerala Cooperatives Minister G Sudhakaran's criticism that the Centre was making only ''empty promises'' to develop the coir industry, Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh today said the sector had been given unprecedented financial support by UPA Government.
Addressing a press conference here, Mr Ramesh said the Centre had taken a series of measures in the past three years to modernise and rejuvenate the coir sector.
In the largest ever scheme to upgrade the coir industry, the Centre had given in-principle approval to a Rs 1,654 crore scheme submitted by the Coir Board. The union finance minister had already earmarked Rs 25 crore in the budget for 2007-08 for this and the scheme was expected to be operationalised next month.
The scheme would benefit more than 175,000 people involved in the coir sector, of whom more than 50 per cent were in Kerala, Mr Ramesh said.
In other measures, the union commerce ministry had agreed to give Rs 50 lakh plus round trip air travel for 75 coir buyers from all over the world attending the India International Coir Festival (IICF), to be organised by the Coir Board from December seven to 11.
The festival, being held after a gap of six years, was expected to generate business worth Rs 100 crore, he said.
The Central Government had also announced a direct financial incentive of Rs 25 crore for coir exports, which were expected to go upto Rs 750 crore during 2007-08 compared to Rs 605 crore last year.
A sum of Rs 56 crore had been allocated for Alappuzha, which had been declared a ''town of export excellence'' for coir. Another Rs four crore was being allocated to develop the coir clusters at Cheirynakizhu, Vaikom, Mangad and Beypore, he said.
Urging the Kerala Government to ''stop playing politics with coir'', Mr Ramesh said Mr Sudhakaran should look at the facts and the number of initiatives taken by the Central Government to develop the sector in the past three years.
Coir Board Chairman A C Jose said the state government, on the contrary, had done little to ameliorate the salaries and other working conditions of the coir workers.