Congress on Tuesday denounced the Union government's policy for the rubber sector, saying India has become a "large" importer of natural rubber due to poor investments in the Rubber Board.
"Due to poor investments in the Rubber Board, India has become a large importer of natural rubber today," senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said.
Criticising the Union government for not appointing a full time Board chairman, Ramesh, who was Minister of State for Commerce in the UPA I government, said it is a statutory requirement that the Board meet at least twice a year.
"But for more than 18 months, there has been no Board. The post of Chairman has been lying vacant since August 2014.
There is no full time secretary or head for the extension department in the Rubber Board. The Tea Board and Coffee Board also do not have a full time chairman now," he said in a statement.
Noting that more than 85 per cent of natural rubber produced in India comes from Kerala, where it contributes up to 45 per cent of the state's agrarian GDP, he urged the government to immediately suspend issue of Advance Licence for importing natural rubber to India with a provision to supply natural rubber to importers at estimated international prices.
"However, quality of processed forms of rubber offered to importers should be ensured," he said.
Ramesh said that in 1997-2002, State Trading Corporation had procured rubber from the local market and supplied to Advance Licence holders at international/discounted prices.
Urging the Centre to support viable rubber procurement initiatives of the state government, he said they should revise price stabilization scheme and implement a crop insurance scheme to cover losses due to natural calamities and diseases and fall in prices beyond a defined reference price.
He said the cess collected on rubber should be paid back to the Board in addition to the approved plan funds.
"The approved outlay for 12th Plan Scheme of Rubber Board 'Sustainable and inclusive development of natural rubber sector' is unrealistically low at Rs 960 crore," he said.
"Even this is being cut back now which will seriously affect our production paving way for more imports of rubber," he added.
Falling prices of rubber is a major election issue in central Kerala districts -- a traditional support base of the Congress-led UDF in the state.