The decision of the Union government to repeal Coffee Act-1942 and enact a new Coffee Bill-2016 has not gone well with the coffee growers. It is said that Coffee Act, 1942 was introduced by the British during World War II to keep coffee industry in their control. The Act ensured that no growers could sell the coffee even in indigenous market without the consent of the government. Growers required permission from central excise authorities to even transport coffee grown by them.
In 1942, the Coffee Board (CB) was set up for controlling trade of coffee and curing works, fixing the price and also monitoring export. The same act continued till the 90s, till the growers’ organisations strengthened.
The system of coffee pooling left the growers in distress in the 90s. Due to coffee pooling, the growers could not reap benefits of the high international market price for coffee. Following strong agitation by growers the union government abolished the coffee pooling system in 1996 and the coffee growers were free to sell their produce in open market and the situation changed for the growers for the good.
But, with the proposed Coffee Bill, 2016, the government once again has made it mandatory that all growers should register with the Coffee Board.
United Codava Organisation (UCO) convener Manju Chinnappa said that at present the Coffee Board has 33 members headed by an IAS officer. The new bill provisioned to appoint two Lok Sabha members and a Rajya Sabha member as CB members. If the bill is enforced then the elected representatives who have no knowledge about coffee may become CB members. He pointed out that there is no reference of providing representation for coffee growers. On the other hand the CB will be controlled by huge companies, large growers and industrialists as Union government appoints members.
He further said that the erstwhile Coffee Registration certificate (CRC) system would come to force which will become a tool for officers to exploit growers. He said, according to Section 26 of the new Bill, the CB officers are empowered to enter and check coffee estates and go-downs at any time. This would curtail rights of growers.
He said the coffee board has neither basic infrastructure nor funds to monitor the industry which may result in imposing maintenance tax or registration fees on growers.
However, the CB officers have ruled out the fear among growers’ organisations on the grounds that the CB since its inception has worked for the welfare of the coffee growers.
The draft copy of the Bill was published on government website on March 23 and the growers had time till April 23 to file objections. Now the bill is ready to be introduced in the Parliament.
MP Pratapsimha mooted the issue in Lok Sabha and sought details recently.