The role of the Coffee Board chairman Javed Akhtar, IAS (in picture) has come under the scanner following the recent scathing attack on the Coffee Board launched by Union Commerce minister NirmalaSitharaman.
Mr Akhtar’s tenure as head of the Board in the past few years has been ‘listless’, marked by a lack of direction, compared to the tenure of Lakshmi Venkatachalam, who was known for her pro-active role, sources in the coffee industry said.
Addressing an interactive meeting with the Board members as well the stakeholders of the coffee industry, the Union Commerce minister had noted: “If growers and exporters are doing their bit, the Board cannot be sitting doing nothing. I am thoroughly unhappy that the Board remains where they are. I would have expected as much robustness in the Board as the sector. Sorry for being so blunt.”
These are strong words from a minister who is known to be no-nonsense in her approach. “It is not that I am absolving myself of my responsibility but I am here to say the Board, please sit up,” she added.
Sources in the coffee industry noted that the present chairman’s tenure has been lacklustre.
The white stem-borer menace is threatening to drive the Arabica variety to extinction and the Board had failed in finding solution. The research and development wing of the Board had not done anything worthwhile in the past few years, the sources noted.
Another area of concern was the failure of the Board to promote transfer of technology to the coffee industry which was in the grip of a crisis due to chronic labour shortage. There is need for subsidising the machinery. The Board chairman has to move the Commerce ministry on a priority basis to provide subsidies.
One of the important problems being faced by coffee planters, especially the medium level planters, is the high interest rates being charged by banks towards credit towards development activities.
It was pointed out by an expert that the domestic consumption of coffee had gone up not on account of the efforts of the Board, but due to promotional activities undertaken by the private sector.
The time has come for the Coffee Board to wake up from its slumber and become pro-active.
By P.T. Bopanna