Structural reforms worry farmers as Rubber Board cuts down on regional offices
With the Rubber Board unfolding its structural reforms and the Central authorities hinting at plantation policy perspectives, the more than a million rubber growers, most of them small farmers, are an aggrieved lot.
The immediate reason for alarm has been the decision to close down the regional office of the Rubber Board at Kottayam and merging it with the one at Changanassery.
“Of the 44 regional offices the board has nationwide, 26 are in Kerala,” said a source who wished to remain anonymous. “The move is to reduce the number to at least 14, one every district. In fact, the Central authorities would like to reduce it to 12 since Alappuzha and Wyanad have no rubber plantations,” he said.
According to a senior official, restructuring of the system and rationalising of operations was in the air for some time.
Bid to allay concerns
“Though the board is planning reduction in the number of regional offices, none of the field offices, which directly deal with the growers, will be closed down. The board will keep a development office with reduced staff strength where ever the regional offices are closed down,” he said.
He said with much of the functions being computerised, there was scope for reduction in the number of administrative posts.
“There will not be any cut in the number of posts or scientists or field staff,” he said, adding that this was only the beginning of the restructuring process. In the next phase, there would be internal, departmental rationalisation.
He said the excess staff could be reduced naturally since nearly 300 of the more than 1,500 employees would superannuate within the next three years, hinting at a de facto ban on new appointments in the administrative departments.
According to other sources, the rationalisation process is directly linked to the implementation of the seventh pay commission recommendations for board employees.
Meanwhile, what concerns the growers more is the perceived change in policy perspectives on rubber plantation industry by the Centre.
For the first time since its inception, the board could not distribute the subsidy for replanting during 2016-17 on account of the reduced budgetary provisions provided by the Centre. The reason cited was that the board had already exceeded the target set for 12th Plan period.
Interestingly, the rubber sector has found itself out of the purview of the proposed plantation export development authority (PEDA) since India is a net importer of natural rubber.
“With this, the Commerce Ministry’s interest in the sector has also diminished and it would like the Agriculture Ministry to take over natural rubber from the former. “However, the Agriculture Ministry is not interested since this is not a food crop,” said the source.
The Central authorities are also thinking seriously of scrapping the Rubber Act, which in effect will take away the statutory board status from the Rubber Board. On the other hand, the move to declare a national rubber policy too stands quashed.