Kochi: The raging row over Mullaperiyar dam between Tamil Nadu and Kerala has hit cardamom growers hard and as a fallout of the issue cardamom auctions at Idukki have been held up for the past 15 days, causing over Rs 75 crore loss, trade sources said.

Against the backdrop of the tense situation at the borders, cardamom growers have requested the spices board to open another trade centre either at Kochi or any other place in Kerala.

"We have to open another trade centre in Kerala," Cardamom Growers Association Executive Secretary Devassia said.

With vehicular movement coming to a stop in the border areas of the two states, movement of daily labourers from Tamil Nadu has been badly hit, Devassia said from Idukki.

This is the peak cardamom season and farmers are unable to harvest the crops due to scarcity of labour. There is no labourer to pluck cardamom. About 400-500 jeeps used to transport the labourers on an average everyday which has been stopped now due to the troubles on the dam issue, he said.

P C Punnonose, General Manager, Kerala Cardamom Processing and Marketing cooperative society, which conducts auctions, said eight auctions are held per week, including two every Monday with an average turnover of Rs five crore.

About 100 tonnes of cardamon is traded each day. Since the past 15 days, auctions have been held up causing a loss of over Rs 75 crore, he said. Spices board sources said most cardamom dealers are based in Tamil Nadu because of the strategic location of Bodinaickannur, commercial hub of cardamom.

Every lot of cardamom purchased from auction are taken to processing centres at Bodinaickannur and Virudhanagar, where grading is done manually. The cardamom is then sent to different marketing centres through traditionally established marketing channels.Bulk buyers of cardamom are in North India.

The board's spice park godown at Puttady in Idukki where about 450 tonnes of cardamom can be stored, is full. Since no auctions are taking place, the cardamom cannot be shifted, the sources said.

Devassia said cardamom growers are unable to sell their produce as there are no farm workers to harvest the crop.  The crop was withering away causing huge loss to the farmers.

About 33,000 hectares in Idukki district, where the dam is located, is under cardamom cultivation.

Punnonose said Kerala vehicles are not being allowed to ply to Tamil Nadu so the auctioned cardamom also cannot be taken to that state. Tamil Nadu government has to improve the situation so that the auctions can resume, he said.

Reji Njallani, a cardamom grower in Idukki, who has five acres of cardamom plantation, said thousands of workers travel by jeeps daily to Idukki from Tamil Nadu to work in the plantations.

"Due to the present situation, they are unable to come. Another 10,000-15,000 workers, who were staying in Idukki and working, also have gone back with the situation in border
areas worsening," he claimed.

With hardly any workers around, about 3000-4000 tonnes of cardamom crop, which had not been picked, have been destroyed and some eaten away by rats and squirrels, he said.

The dry cardamon prices, which stood at Rs 600 per kg two weeks ago, now stood at Rs 350 per kg. The local workers are demanding Rs 450 per day as wages, he said, adding, the high labour costs and low prices had dealt a huge blow to growers.

Now, many cardamom and pepper growers were turning to rubber cultivation, he said. Meanwhile, an urgent meeting of over 40 representatives of cardamom growers, auctioners and traders held at the Spices Board at Kochi this evening discussed the current stalemate in the cardamom sector.

The meeting decided to resume cardamom auctions on December 26 for which a joint meeting of farmers, traders and auctioneers will be held at Spice Park at Puttady on Dec 23,
spices board sources said.

Board Vice Chairman, Roy K Paulose, presided over the meeting.