Kerala is facing yet another crisis that is likely to escalate with the looming Onam season and the bone of contention this time is the non-supply of rice to the state.
The rice mill owners from Andra Pradesh have threatened to block the supply of rice to the Kerala State Cooperative Consumers Federation (Consumerfed) if it failed to clear the long pending dues. The traders met and held talks with the Managing Director Tomin J Thachankary on Saturday informing him that they would withdraw from the tender proceedings and would stop traders from other states from supplying rice to Consumerfed and the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) that comes under the Co-operative Department and the Department of Food respectively, if the arrears are not paid. The consumerfed has to pay them Rs 80 crore pending for the rice supply over a period of three years. Thachankary expressed hope that if the government sanctions money, the Federation would pay a part of the arrears within two weeks. The ration shops and Maveli stores would thus be left idle if the rice supply is halted aggravating the crisis with the onset of Onam. While about 75, 000 tons of rice is imported to the state from Andra Pradesh by train every month, another 15, 000 tons reach Kerala via road with the quantity increasing significantly during the festive seasons. But Civil Supplies Minister Anoop Jacob has said that the non-supply of rice would not affect the Onam market adding that there would be 1, 500 of them during the festive season. He refuted the report that there will be shortage of rice during the Onam season on the basis of the 37, 000 tons of rice that have already been secured by the state for the season. Since the quantity of rice that is required during the season comes to around one lakh tones, the stock presently available wouldn’t be sufficient.
The row between the Thachankary and Consumerfed Chairman Advocate Joy Thomas is the prime reason that blocks the paying back of arrears. The move to get a loan of 25 crore each from the Cooperative banks in the districts like Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Kannur and Kozhikode remained futile due to the internal conflicts. The crisis would worsen if the government didn’t take the necessary steps to tackle it. Traders from Tamil Nadu and Kerala have organized a march to the Collectorate in Coimbatore on August 7 to protest against the short supply of cattle that is imported to the state. The drop in the arrival of cattle to Kerala has led to a scarcity of meat across the state. The people helplessly continue to import adulterated and poisonous vegetables from other states. Even while the problem of producing non poisonous vegetables is resolved through vegetable gardens on roof tops and terraces, the battle for rice is likely to continue. The government should focus on clearing the dues as soon as possible and resume the supply of rice and other essential commodities to the state.