People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXVI

No. 11

March 11, 2012

 

Silk Farmers Hold National Convention

 

A national convention against duty free silk import was held at the Speaker Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi on March 5, 2012. More than 200 silk farmers, mostly from Karnataka and other silk growing states attended the convention. Under the aegis of the Struggle Committee Against Duty Free Silk Import, massive protest at Central Silk Board headquarters in Bangalore involving thousands of farmers and reelers from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu was held in February 2011. The central government instead of withdrawing the decision, in the last budget reduced the import duty on remaining silk imported from nearly 31 per cent to just 5 per cent. This was followed by protests at the residence/offices of central ministers from Karnataka, a dayís bandh in silk growing districts and a march to Vidhana Soudha by thousands of farmers. One lakh letters to the prime minister are also being sent on the issue. This convention involving sericulture farmers, kisan organisations, reelers, elected representatives and industry representatives brought the struggle to the national capital. A memorandum was also submitted to the prime minister.

 

Mallur Shivanna welcomed the delegates to the convention. In his introductory remarks, Dr Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary, All India Kisan Sabha and convenor of the Struggle Committee recounted how the all India Struggle Committee was formed in September 2010 against the Congress-led UPA governmentís decision to allow 2500 metric tonnes of duty free silk import. The central governmentís policies have directly led to distress for the farmers and forced indebted silk farmers to commit suicide in the silk belt of Karnataka, he charged. Attacking the government policies, he warned that these policies will make Indiaís sericulture decline and farmers will be left with no option but to uproot the mulberry plants. He called for intensifying struggles against the continuing government apathy.

 

Senior CPI(M) leader and chairman, parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, Basudeb Acharia said the neoliberal economic policies pursued by different governments had led to a quarter million suicides by farmers and agriculture was increasingly becoming unviable. Rising costs of cultivation and unremunerative prices for produce as well as policies like duty free import of silk have pushed farmers into extreme distress. He demanded immediate redressal of the problems of the silk farmers and those involved in allied activities. He assured that the problems of the sericulture sector will be raised in the parliament and conveyed his solidarity with the struggle.

 

G C Byyareddy, general secretary, Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha and organising convenor of the Struggle Committee placed the draft resolution and explained the conditions of the sericulture sector in detail and called for remedial measures. The resolution was later unanimously accepted.

 

 Bachegowda, sericulture minister of Karnataka and K H Muniappa, minister of state for railways also attended the convention and assured that they will raise the issues put forward in the convention with the central government. C Narayanaswamy, ex-MP and Ramesh Kumar, former speaker, Karnataka assembly also expressed solidarity with the struggle. Kempareddy addressed the convention on behalf of the silk reelers. Maruti Manpade, president of KPRS who presided over the meeting said that it was only the pressure of the struggles that made the state and central minister come and express solidarity with the farmers and reelers. He warned of intensified struggles if the government does not accept the demands and asked the farmers to remain vigilant. Yashwant, leader of KPRS proposed the vote of thanks.

 

 

Resolution

 

SERICULTURE is a farm-based economic enterprise positively favouring the rural poor in the unorganised sector. More than seven million people are engaged in sericulture and allied activities like mulberry cultivation, silkworm rearing, silk reeling, twisting, dyeing, weaving etc. Women constitute over 60 per cent of those employed in down-stream activities of sericulture in the country. Sericulture has been an agro-based industry with high employment potential. It has been an ideal occupation for the economically deprived sections of the society. Sericulture was taken up because of the low gestation period and high returns. It hence is practiced by numerous small and marginal farmers with very small landholding. An acre of mulberry garden and silkworm rearing could support a family of four without hiring labour. Even landless families engaging in cocoon production using mulberry contracted from local farmers is a common practice in some states. The sericulture sector has directly influenced the socio-economic condition of the stakeholders.

 

The government of India had imposed an anti-dumping duty on raw silk in April 2003 to prevent dumping of cheap raw silk from China. Dumping had severely affected sericulture in our country and falling incomes led to a large-scale uprooting of mulberry by farmers. It was only after imposition of anti-dumping duty, a certain amount of stability was restored in the sector. However, the decision of the central government in the last budget to drastically cut import duty on silk is causing concern among those directly associated with the silk industry. The decision to cut customs duty from 30 per cent to 5 per cent nullifies all the gains of the anti-dumping duty.

 

Reduction in the import duty, will not only affect the livelihood of the farmers and reelers severely, but also in the process, India will continue to face critical shortage of raw silk. Already the decision has had an adverse impact on cocoon price and silk price: The average cocoon price has come down from Rs 312.53 (February, 2011) to Rs 194.48 (January, 2012). The average silk price has come down from Rs 2707 (February, 2011) to Rs 1859 (January, 2012).

 

Falling prices of cocoon and raw silk due to reduction in customs duty will lead to a large scale uprooting of mulberry in the sericulture belts of our country which will result in drastic decline in the raw silk production. The area under mulberry cultivation between 1999-2000 to 2010-11 has come down by 48 per cent  in Karnataka, and 20 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and at the national level by 25 per cent.

 

The Central Silk Boardís threshold remunerative price of Rs 165/Kg-Rs 170/Kg for cocoon is unrealistic. The cost of production of cocoons arrived at by experts and farmers is nearly Rs 350/Kg. The Karnataka state governmentís calculation of cost of production is also Rs 250/Kg. The CSB prices donít reflect the increased costs of production. The absence of correct information about domestic demand and production of silk is also a problem. There is also no correct assessment of the quantity being smuggled into the country. The claim that domestic production is far below the demand is questionable and a proper assessment has to be made. Dependence on imports rather than following a policy of self reliance by enhancing productivity is ruining the livelihoods of silk farmers. The experience of Bangladesh wherein dumping has led to total collapse of sericulture is worth noting.

 

 The continuous fall in prices of cocoons and silk yarn has created panic among the stakeholders of the sericulture industry and farmers are in a state of extreme distress. It is relevant here to state that some sericulture farmers in the traditional silk belt of Karnataka have committed suicide due to crash in prices of cocoons. Such tendencies were unknown in the long history of sericulture in the country. In this background, we demand immediate action on the following to safeguard sericulture industry in the country:

 

1.     The customs duty should be restored to 30 per cent as before.

2.     Government of India should announce a minimum support price for cocoons with immediate effect keeping the inflation and high labour cost in mind. Dr Swaminathan Commission recommendations of C2+50 per cent should be implemented.

3.     Till announcement of minimum support price, the difference between the cost of production and actual rate should be paid to the sericulture farmers with retrospective effect from March 1, 2011, the date from which customs duty on silk was reduced.

4.     Waiver of all loans incurred by the silk farmers after the import duty cut.

5.     Government of India should appoint an independent agency to make a time-bound study on the actual production, demand, shortage and efforts to meet requirement.

6.     To announce a special policy for development of sericulture.

 

This national convention seeks an urgent redressal of the grievances of over seven million people dependent on sericulture and allied activities. We demand that the government of India should intervene on an immediate basis to save the industry and provide relief to the large number of farmers and other stakeholders involved in sericulture industry.