Coffee Board appointments: Centre faces industry flak

Kochi, March 21 | Updated: Mar 22 2005, 05:30am hrs
The commerce ministry may be forced to backtrack on its decision to appoint politicians as head of commodity boards. The plantation industry is up in arms against political appointments.

Oscar Fernandes, KH Muniyappa and MV Rajashekaran had backed former Congress Karnataka MLA Ashwathnarayana Reddy to head the Coffee Board in place of Lakshmi Venkatachalam, IAS, whose term of office ends next month. Mr Reddy represents Kolar, which has little to do with coffee. His qualification to occupy the post has been attributed to his association with the Karnataka Silk Marketing Board a few years ago, said AK Bhandari, president of United Planters Association of South India (Upasi), which had taken up the issue with the Congress president.

Indications from the commerce ministry are that the move was likely to be reconsidered.

Again moves are afoot to appoint a Congress MLA and former Kerala minister head the Rubber Board after the term of office of present chairman SR Desalphine ends in July. Incidentally, the Centre recently posted an IAS officer for the first time to head the relatively minor Coconut Development Board.

Various grower associations, including Upasi, Association of Planters of Kerala and Tamil Nadu Planters Association had cautioned the government earlier against political postings.

In both the case of rubber and coffee, it is important that the Centre took into account the views of Upasi and other southern organisations, Mr Bhandari told FE as southern region accounted for nearly all the production of the two commodities.

It is important that officials fully conversant with the nuances of international trade occupy the post so that the negotiation process at international fora could be handled diplomatically and strategically.

The Coffee Board saw the worst of times when politician GY Reddy was made the chairman in the late 80s. The board, which till then was the marketing pool of coffee growers, had to come out of it. There were serious charges that the pool funds were being misused and growers were not getting the benefits. Things came to such a pass then that there was even a demand to disband the board. It is important that the Centre learns from experience, Mr Bhandari said.

We have lodged our strongest protest and also discussed the matter with the ministers concerned, he said, adding that they agreed to consider having a relook.

With the US, a major buyer, joining the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), there were several issues to be addressed. Indias position with regard to export markets and other initiatives and interests need to be safeguarded at the ICO.

Efforts were on to get the World Trade Organisation accept rubber as an agricultural produce rather than industrial raw material.

The board would go the Coffee Board way of the late 80s, if a political appointment is made, fears Kerala association chairman VP Nambi. He told FE that the association had already taken up the matter with the Centre.