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India: Rubber ‘capital’ goes on hartal seeking ban on imports

KOTTAYAM, OCT 30:

A Left Democratic Front-backed rubber farmers’ hartal in Kerala’s Kottayam district, the nerve-centre of rubber production and trade in the country as well as the seat of the Rubber Board, left several businesses and offices closed and sent most of the public transport off the road on Wednesday.

The hartal, which was against the backdrop of the sharp fall in the prices of natural rubber, was to ask the Centre to wind down rubber imports and impose 20 per cent import duty as had been decided earlier this year.

The hartal, called by the farmers’ wings of the Opposition CPI (M) and its partners in the Left Front, was enforced only in Kottayam district. Most shops and businesses remained closed in the district headquarters and key towns, while in the interior areas, it partially impacted public life. While inter-district buses run by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation were allowed to run, those operating within the district stayed off. Most government offices reported thin attendance.

Mahatma Gandhi University, which has its headquarters in Kottayam, cancelled all examinations scheduled for Wednesday.

M.T. Joseph, the front’s convenor in Kottayam district, told Business Line that the hartal was near-total. He said that rubber prices had fallen by around Rs 40 a kg within a month and over the last one year by about Rs 100. He said that the fall was due to the pro-tyre-lobby import policy of the Centre. Imports had risen to unprecedented levels, thus dipping domestic prices.

Joseph said that while the domestic prices had fallen, the tyre industry, the main consumer of rubber, had jacked up the prices of tyres.

He also said that the Centre had, in February, decided to impose 20 per cent duty on rubber imports, but was yet to enforce the increased duty rate. He wanted the Government to immediately enforce the duty.

He claimed that rubber farmers can meet up to 93 per cent of the demand of the Indian industry and hence, there was no need for imports.

The current domestic price is below Rs 160 a kg (for RSS-4), and because global prices are lower, the tyre industry prefers to import.

Source: The Hindu

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