LS witnesses sharp exchange on ex-PM's demand for tobacco farmers

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New Delhi, Mar 18 (UNI) Ahead of the impending assembly elections in Karnataka, the Lok Sabha today witnessed a sharp exchange on former Prime Minister Deve Gowda's demand for an increase in the area under tobbacco cultivation and fertiliser subsidy to growers of the crop in the state.

Raising the issue through a calling attention, the Janata Dal (Secular) member from the southern state alleged ''step-motherly'' treatment to Karnataka's tobacco growers. But Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jairam Ramesh strongly refuted the charge, saying there was no politics in capping the crop size and penalty on excess growth of the crop in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. He said instead 24,000 unauthorised tobacco growers were regularised between 2004-07 to the consternation of the Union Health Ministry.

The Minister further said 62 per cent of Karnataka's tobacco is set for export target this year as against 58 per cent of Andhra Pradesh's crop, adding it was because Karnataka's tobacco got a premium in the international market.

He said tobacco growers in both the states were going to benefit following an agreement India has signed with China after 14 years of efforts, adding 10 million kilos of the crop was set to be exported every year to the neighbouring country, which is the world's largest and fastest growing market for tobacco.

On the fertiliser subsidy, the Minister said inspite of the massive Rs 90,000 crore projected on this account in 2008-09, the department of fertilisers was finalising a Cabinet note on it and the process to provide subsidy on sulphate of potash used by tobacco growers would be completed in two to three months. About 50,000 tonnes of this fertiliser, including 27,000 tonnes by tobacco growers, is used in the country and entire quantity is imported as it is not manufactured in India, he said, adding subsidy on the component of the fertiliser by tobacco growers would come to Rs 1,200 crore per year.

On crop ceiling, the Minister said this was done to protect the interests of tobacco growers as an increase in size leading to higher production would depress market price resulting in loss to farmers. He said ceiling for Karnataka in the current fiscal was fixed at 95 million kgs but the actual production was only 88 million kgs. Yet the ceiling has now been increased and fixed at 100 million kg for them.

The Minister defended imposition of penalty on excess growth, saying it was aimed at protecting farmers from resorting to distress sale of excess produce. He said growers from Karnataka he had met here on March 12 also wanted the penalty to continue but wanted that it should be capped at five per cent. Their demand for increasing crop size and reducing the current 15 per cent penalty would be considered by the Tobacco Board, the Minister added.

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