<b>XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, <i> Session II (Winter Session) </i> </b>
XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, Session II (Winter Session) Friday, December 3, 1999/Agrahayana 12, 1921 (Saka )

Type of Debate: CALLING ATTENTION (RULE-197)
Title: Regarding situation arising out of serious disease of mite endangering the coconut cultivation in the country and steps taken by the Government in regard thereto.

14.08 hrs

Serious disease of mite endangering coconut cultivation in the Country

MR. SPEAKER: Now, the Calling Attention by Shri P.C. Thomas will be taken up.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS (MUVATTUPUZHA): Where is the Minister? He is not here.

MR. SPEAKER: He is coming.

SHRI SONTOSH MOHAN DEV (SILCHAR): You please take a note of it. ... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: I know that he is coming.

... (Interruptions)

SHRI S. JAIPAL REDDY (MIRYALGUDA): Mr. Speaker, Sir, this is an occasion for a reprimand from the Chair.

... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Please understand that he is coming. In the meantime, Shri Thomas, you can move it.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : Sir, we have no quarrel with the Minister.

MR. SPEAKER: Do not quarrel with the Minister.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : No Sir. He is a very honest person. The only thing that we want is that for the delay which has unknowingly caused, I think he will be benevolent to the coconut farmers in this regard.

I call the attention of the hon. Minister of Agriculture to the following matter of urgent public importance and request that he may make a statement thereon:

"The situation arising out of serious disease of mite endangering coconut cultivation in the country and steps taken by the Government in regard thereto."

THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE (SHRI NITISH KUMAR): Sir, the incidence of Coconut Mite was first reported in India from Ernakulam district of Kerala in 1998. It is reported to be spreading to other neighbouring States, viz., Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Union Territory of Pondicherry. The mite infestation causes production of extremely small sized nuts with surface warting and longitudinal fissures with immature fall. The infestation in Kerala has now spread to seven districts, viz., Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Malappuram, Kottayam, Palakkad, Trichur and Trivandrum.

The infestation on severe scale was similarly reported from some parts of Tamil Nadu, especially Erode, Pollachi, Coimbatore, Dindigul, Virudhnagar. In Tamil Nadu, about 50 lakh coconut palms are reported to have been affected by this pest. Sporadic incidences of this pest are also reported from Karnataka and Pondicherry.

The Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), Kasargode have recommended root feeding of 10 ml. Monocrotophos and 10 ml. water at monthly intervals as a satisfactory control measure. Similarly, Kerala Agriculture University (KAU) has recommended spraying of Dicofol 6 ml./litre of water or two per cent neem oil plus two per cent garlic extract at monthly intervals. Government of Kerala are taking steps to adopt remedial/control measures through spraying as recommended by Kerala Agriculture University.

In view of the high cost of pesticides and difficulties in administering the pesticides for control of the pest, the scientists are now of the opinion that development of effective bio-control measures with natural enemies would offer an effective, cheap, eco-friendly and long lasting solution to the problem. The Coconut Development Board (CDB) has, therefore, approved a research project in this direction at a cost of Rs.3 lakh to develop effective bio-control measures.

The Coconut Development Board has brought out booklets/brochures on mite and are extending assistance for training programmes. The awareness creation campaigns are continuing both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the pest incidence is reported to be very high.

On a request received in October 1998 from Government of Kerala for an assistance of Rs.525 lakh for combating mite infestation in Coconut, the Coconut Development Board released an additional Rs.96 lakh during 1998-99 to Government of Kerala for this purpose which have been revalidated recently for utilisation during the year 1999-2000. Further, under the project `Integrated farming in coconut holdings for productivity improvement', which include a component on plant protection, an outlay of Rs.713.03 lakh has been sanctioned for Kerala for the year 1999-2000.

In this regard, a meeting was also taken by the Union Secretary of Agriculture & Cooperation with the scientists of CPCRI, KAU, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and officers of the CDB, Director of Agriculture/Horticulture of Government of Kerala and Tamil Nadu on 2nd September, 1999 at Kochi to discuss the problem of coconut mite in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

A Steering Committee under the chairmanship of Horticulture Commissioner with the representatives of States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well as from the three Agricultural Universities, CPCRI, Kasargode, Project Directorate of Biological Control and All India Coordinated Project on "Mite" (ICAR) has been formed to review and coordinate the efforts in developing suitable control measures and management of the problem.

Government of Kerala have requested for a financial assistance of Rs.100 crore in this regard. The matter is being examined.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS (MUVATTUPUZHA): Mr. Speaker, Sir, the problem is so serious that India will be put to a great loss if this issue is not properly tackled at this stage. The estimated production of coconut is 130 billion nuts per year in 1.89 million hectares. This is 24.5 per cent of the world's production. The area of cultivation is about 15.5 per cent of the total area of cultivation in the world.

1416 hours (Mr. Deputy-Speaker in the Chair)

India is heading on to be the first in the production and productivity of coconut. At this stage, this disease is going to be devastating. It is going to completely uproot this cultivation. It is of such a magnitude that it has to be very seriously dealt with. This has to be treated as a national calamity and action has to be taken by the Government in this respect.

Sir, about 90 per cent of coconut plantation in Kerala is being affected. The statistics of the Department of Agriculture would show that 59 billion nuts are being produced in Kerala and the area of cultivation is 1.02 million hectares. About 10 million people in Kerala alone are engaged in coconut cultivation as labourers, farmers and other jobs connected thereto. About a sum of Rs.7,000 crore is being given annually to the GDP and also about Rs.366 crore by way of export of coir and other products of coconut.

Sir, this is not a problem of Kerala alone. About 70 per cent of the cultivation in Tamil Nadu is also going to be affected. Pollachi is the grey area and it has been affected to a very great extent. The statistics would show that 3,716 million nuts are being grown in 3,19,800 hectares of land in Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka--Shri Bangarappa is also going to say about this--about 50 per cent of the cultivation in Karnataka is estimated to be affected and 1,493 million nuts are being produced in Karnataka in 2,86,900 hectares of land. In Andhra Pradesh, 780 million nuts are being produced in 94,900 hectares of land.

I have the statistics of all the other States, West Bengal, Orissa, Goa, Tripura, Maharashtra, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. In Lakshadweep, I shall specifically say that about 28 million nuts are being produced in about 2,800 hectares. This is a very very serious problem of high dimension. The Government of Kerala alone will not be able to tackle this problem. The Government of Kerala has not succeeded in tackling this problems. I do not think, the Government of other States alone can do something in this regard. So, the Government of India has to come forward.

Coconut had been declared as an oilseed by the V.P.Singh Government. But, along with that the benefits of oilseeds were taken away. So, it is not treated as an oilseed now. It is being treated as a horticultural product. Therefore, it does not have the cover of the group insurance. The insurance cover, which the Government of India is providing through GIC or other agencies, is not there now. We have been very hastily passing the other concerned Bills. With regard to insurance, we are inviting foreign investment. The poor farmers cultivating coconuts in this country are not covered by insurance and no subsidy is also given by the Government of India.

Therefore, I want that some immediate action in this respect is taken to see how the farmers could be helped at this stage by providing proper insurance cover for each coconut tree which they are planting. This matter should receive very serious consideration of the Government. Then, assistance has to be given to the coconut farmers of all the concerned States by the Government of India. The hon. Minister has been good enough to speak out in the statement with regard to Rs.96 lakh which has been spent or given by the Coconut Development Board, which is a pittance as far as the magnitude of the problem is concerned. I am sure the Government of Kerala which has taken a step by giving Rs.3.... (Interruptions) The statement has said about Rs.96 lakh. That is there. That is a very, very small amount in comparison to the magnitude of the situation and the great amount of contribution the coconut farmers are making to the nation. Therefore, I would submit that the very important aspect is that the Government of India should give good assistance to the farmers. The Government of Kerala is doing one thing now. They are giving Rs.3 per affected tree which is a very, very small amount. At least Rs.15 per tree is estimated to be the cost of giving treatment which has been mentioned in the statement. In the statement, it is said that some kind of medicines are applied. In Tamil Nadu, for example, one type of chemical is applied. In Kerala, as per the suggestion given by the Agricultural University, they are also giving one particular type of medicine. It is called Dycophil. They are giving that. That alone is not a solution to this problem.

I may also add at this stage that a proper remedy has not been found as yet. Therefore, it may be proper that the Minister himself visits the area concerned, especially, Kerala. Kerala has the largest cultivation. In Kerala 59 billion nuts are being produced. So, the Minister himself must visit not only Kerala but also the other affected areas along with the high-ranking scientists of India who will be able to find out a solution to this problem which, the scientists say now, is not by giving any type of manure or medicine or insecticide but it may be by way of some organic, natural anti-insects which have to be produced.

This disease was first detected in Africa and Latin America where tea and coffee plantations were being affected. There, they have been successful in finding out some kind of anti-insects or organic insects, natural insects which are now fighting against them, which were able to successfully fight against the disease and they have overcome the problem. So, it may be necessary even to take the advice of scientists abroad also and to find out a proper solution to this problem immediately.

So, I would suggest also that apart from the immediate need for investigation by scientists, there may also be a need to help the farmers who have been already affected. Otherwise, they will stop the cultivation and they will not be able to sustain at all. So, I would suggest that immediately some amount per coconut, per tree, has to be given; and that amount should be calculated. The Government of Kerala has been pleased to ask for Rs.100 crore which, I think, may be a very meagre amount because the magnitude of the situation is higher than that. I would submit that at least Rs.50 per tree may be calculated so that some kind of assistance in this regard to the cultivators wherever they are, whether they are in Kerala, or in Tamil Nadu or in all the other States concerned, must be given and they must be allowed to sustain.

There is also a fear that this has come out of some underhand dealing by some agencies also. There is a fear like that. For example, some multinationals who are interested in bringing out their stuff like their soft drinks are doubted, suspected that they have also worked behind this by bringing the insects and formulating them here, and having done something to see that their business interests are safeguarded.

So that also may be inspected whether there is an underhand dealing by any of the multinational companies or others involved who want to give a thrust to their product at the cost of the coconut cultivators.

Some hon. Member was saying here that coconut juice is very sweet which we are not making use of. (Interruptions). We are using Pepsi whereas in China, I understand from the information which I have received, the coconut milk - which we get in plenty - is being packed and used more. That is a very common drink which is used by the public there, not any other artificial drink which we find here. The sweet water which comes out of our coconut is also something which has to be taken out and which has to be publicised and which has to be given a thrust industrially so that India can gain by that.

I am sorry that the Coconut Development Board which is a Board under the Government of India is not having any statutory power. Therefore, if we have to do something through the Coconut Development Board, then that Board also should be empowered and something should be done in this regard.

The Government of Kerala has suggested Dycophil. Dycophil is a chemical, but DDT is the major content. DDT is something which is recommended to be completely discarded. So, I would suggest that that also has to be looked into. The Dycophil medicine is supplied by Bayer and Company. I do not know whether this multinational company has come as a saviour. This also needs to be looked into.

Monocrotophos is being injected to the roots of coconut, especially in Tamil Nadu. This is also highly poisonous. Its consequences also have to be studied, otherwise it may affect not only coconut but other cultivators in India. But this is a matter to be taken very seriously in this regard.

Coconut farmers were also in so much of difficulty because they were not getting proper price. The price of coconut which was about Rs. 6/- had come down to Rs. 2/- or Rs. 3/-. They were in a difficult situation. So, the farmers must be helped by way of support for getting the proper price also.

The Ministry of Agriculture is concerned with declaring the minimum support price. (Interruptions).

MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Shri Thomas, you have to ask a clarificatory question.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : Since Shri Nitish Kumar has taken over the charge, I would suggest that, at least this time, the minimum support price which is going to be declared will be based on real cost of production and the cost of living of the farmers.

I was astonished to see an answer which I was given in Parliament a few years back mentioning that the cost of production of coconut cannot be correctly measured. Then, what is the use of minimum support price? So, the minimum support price which is being declared here is also not up to the standard and which has absolutely no relation to the real difficult situation which the farmer is facing and that is the cost of production. So, these things are to be taken into consideration. The minimum support price has to be declared reasonably within a reasonable time and the farmer has to be assured that he gets the minimum support price.

Sir, I will be concluding as my other colleagues are also going to speak.

The only thing which I would pointedly ask is, what is the Central assistance which the Government of India can give to the farmers of India cultivating coconut, especially in Kerala where the maximum production is there?

My second pointed question is...(Interruptions)

MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: You can ask only one question.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : Then I shall club it with the first question itself.

MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Club it or in whatever form you may ask, but you can ask only one question.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : Sir, my question prior to the first question IS...(Interruptions)

MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Please conclude, Shri Thomas. There are three or four other Members also to ask their questions.

SHRI P.C. THOMAS : I am finishing, Sir.

So, Sir, my question is regarding (a) Central assistance; (b) Central team which is going to be sent, of course, led by the Minister; and (c) insurance cover or actual safeguards for the farmers so that they can continue with the cultivation of coconut. Thank you very mush, Sir.

SHRI G.M. BANATWALLA (PONNANI): Mr. Deputy-Speaker, Sir, I am afraid, the Government has failed to fully realise the devastating gravity of the coconut mite problem. Consequently, there is, I am constrained to say, a criminal neglect of the entire problem on the hands of the Government. The entire Government machinery seems to be moving at a leisurely snail's pace. It is important that the Government gives up this procrastination, shake up and rise to the gravity of the situation. We have been told that not only Kerala but also Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Pondicherry have been affected.

MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Thank God, not Lakshadweep.

SHRI G.M. BANATWALLA : In the case of Kerala, look at the gravity of the situation that about five crore palms of about ten lakh farmers in Kerala have already been affected. Then, in the statement, we are told that the disease starting from Ernakulam has spread to seven districts. No, almost all the districts, particularly eleven districts, are very badly affected and newer and newer areas are being threatened. Therefore, the Government should give up its laxity in this particular problem.

The pitiable position of the farmers that are engaged in coconut cultivation, must be realised. They are small farmers and 95 per cent of them in Kerala have holdings less than one hectare in extent. I emphasise that immediate and massive intervention is necessary. There is already the root of the wilt disease and now we have this coconut mite. Combined, they threaten total extermination of coconut and irreparable damage to the agricultural economy.

The first instance of mites in coconuts was reported in 1998. If I refer to the Government of Kerala, it sought an assistance of Rs.525 lakh at that particular time.

As against the assistance of Rs. 525 lakh sought, a meagre sum of Rs. 96 lakh was offered. Now, with the passage of time and as a result of this neglect, I would say and as a result of this failure to intervene imminently and massively, the devastating disease has spread. The Government of Kerala has now asked for at least Rs. 100 crore as only the Central share. The programme that they have is for Rs. 195 crore, which again, I am afraid, will not be sufficient. The Government of Kerala and the Local Bodies will raise Rs. 95 crore and the Central assistance is to be Rs. 100 crore.