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Tea growers’ boycott plea resonates in Nilgiris

DMK’s A Raja, BJP’s L Murugan locked in tough battle

Tea growers’ boycott plea resonates in Nilgiris

Farmers distribute pamphlets seeking people to boycott LS polls recently

COIMBATORE: Known for its salubrious climate and beautiful landscapes with sprawling tea estates, the popular hill station of The Nilgiris is the go to destination for tourists. But, behind its verdant beauty are problems that remain unresolved for decades by any of the major political parties.

One of the long pending demands of small-scale tea growers, the lifeline of a large populace in this fragile hill economy is for better prices for tea leaves. Fed up over successive government’s apathy, more than 50,000 farmers attached to a farmer’s body have decided to boycott the Lok Sabha polls.

“Price of green tea leaf remain low over the last several years due to rampant adulteration in made tea. If adulteration has to be stopped, then the practice of selling made tea to private firms should be stopped and instead only auctioned, as in the past. Despite multiple representations, the political parties have failed to pay heed to our demand. When a similar crisis prevailed in 1977, the then Janata government at the Centre fixed a minimum price of Rs 70 per kg for made tea and eventually green tea leaves fetched a better price of Rs 12 per kg, when the wages for women workers was barely Rs 15 per day and Rs 30 for men,” said ‘Thumbur’ I Bojan, president of Malai Maavatta Siru Vivasayigal Nala Sangam.

Even after over 40 years, the selling price of green tea leaves prevails at just Rs 15 per kg. But, wages have increased to Rs 400 per day for women and upto Rs 700 for men. Farmers say they will get a reasonable income, only if prices of green tea leaves are sold at a minimum of Rs 50 per kg and above.

“Our members have already reached 420 badaga villages and 350 colonies in The Nilgiris and have issued over one lakh notices to boycott the polls. Till now, our volunteers have completed the first round of campaign asking people to boycott polls in all the six Assembly constituencies in The Nilgiris seat. Our objective is to protect the livelihood of over three lakh workers, who were dependent on farming in an area of 65,000 acres in the hills,” he added.

A range of other issues that dominate the poll scene are the never ending man animal conflict in villages abutting forest boundaries and lack of adequate job opportunities as closure of Hindustan Photo Films (HPF) has left thousands jobless.

Demand for better train connectivity from Mettupalayam to Southern districts, establishing a textile park in Sirumugai and issues concerning the powerloom sector in Avinashi were put forth by the electorate to candidates of political parties set for a triangular clash in the constituency.

Union Minister of State and BJP candidate L Murugan is pitted against DMK’s sitting Member of Parliament A Raja and AIADMK’s D Lokesh Tamilselvan, son of former AIADMK speaker P Dhanabal.

The Nilgiris LS constituency encompasses Ooty, Coonoor and Gudalur in the hills, while Mettupalayam, Avinashi and Bhavanisagar Assembly segments in the plains. Four of these Assembly segments were in the hold of AIADMK, while Coonoor is with DMK and Udhagamandalam with Congress.

With its myriad political dynamics, various parties have held sway in this constituency with Congress bagging a maximum of seven victories to its credit since 1957 and the party’s R Prabhu winning the seat for four times in 1980, 1984, 1989 and 1991. BJP’s ‘Master’ Madhan has also recorded two victories and once by TMC’s SR Balasubramaniam in 1996.

V Ashok Kumar
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