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Natural rubber imports
Bombay HC scraps Ceat petition on port curbs

K.R. Srivats

New Delhi , April 28

IN a setback of sorts for the domestic tyre industry, the Bombay High Court has dismissed the writ petition filed by Ceat Ltd seeking the removal of mandatory port restrictions imposed by the Union Government on imports of natural rubber.

The Centre had in December 2001 stipulated that natural rubber could be imported into the country only through the ports of Kolkata and Vishakapatnam.

The petition filed by Ceat Ltd in August 2003 had also sought the lifting of the existing stipulation of mandatory inspection of natural rubber imports by the Rubber Board. The Automotive Tyre Manufacturers' Association (ATMA) was a respondent to the petition.

Informed sources said that the implication of this judgement is that the port restrictions and mandatory quality inspection of consignments of imported natural rubber by the Rubber Board would continue to exist.

The Rubber Board, in its submissions before the Court, is understood to have highlighted that such norms are required to safeguard the interests of a large number of small growers in the country.

When contacted, a senior official from ATMA confirmed that the Mumbai High Court has dismissed the petition filed by Ceat Ltd. Asked if the domestic tyre makers would prefer an appeal before the Supreme Court, the official said that the association was yet to receive a copy of the judgement. "We can think of appropriate action only after going through the Mumbai High Court judgement," the official said.

Meanwhile, Kohinoor Exports of Jalandhar is understood to have filed a writ petition before the Punjab High Court seeking the removal of port restrictions on the imports of natural rubber into the country.

Ever since the Centre imposed port restrictions, the domestic tyre makers have been making a case for its removal by highlighting that such curbs compel them to incur additional cost of transportation.

In December 2001, the Centre had introduced port restrictions on the ground that difficulties were being faced in collecting information on the quantum of natural rubber imports coming into the country. The absence of appropriate information, it contended, resulted in delays in policy response to address concerns of the domestic planters of natural rubber.

The domestic tyre makers, however, argue that the reasons given by the Government for imposing such restrictions are not justified in the current environment, especially when the latest technological and communication advancements are at the Government's disposal.

While the Government's decision on port restriction came at a time when domestic prices of natural rubber were depressed, tyre makers now feel that the `changed scenario' (strengthened prices of natural rubber at about Rs 58-59 per kg) does not warrant the continuation of such restrictions.

The domestic tyre manufacturers have also been pleading that `encouragement of rubber exports through the subsidy route' should be stopped as such moves were hurting the consuming industry.

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