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Kerala wants defence, railways to use new coir product


Thiruvananthapuram : Armed with a host of new applications with coir such as geotextiles, the Kerala government is making a strong pitch for the country’s defence and railways establishments to bail out the ailing industry, even offering to sell the products at cost to begin with.

“If they help us, then the thousands who earn their livelihood from coir will benefit,” Coir Minister G. Sudhakaran said. “I now intend to take it up with the railway ministry.”

He said he has already met Defence Minister A.K. Antony on the issue, and now plans to go to him again with “some new proposals”. A similar pitch, he added, will be made to Minister of State for Railways E. Ahamed.

Both Antony and Ahamed hail from Kerala.

The coir industry in the state provides employment to nearly 400,000 workers, with women accounting for 76 percent of them.

Traditionally, export of coir and coir products kept the industry ticking. However, coir geotextile has opened up a new revenue source.

Geotextile is knitted fibres, either woven or non-woven, taken out of coconut husks and used for various geotechnical, civil engineering and soil conservation applications.

It is used extensively in developed countries to check soil erosion, reinforce hill slopes, landscaping, reinforce asphalt surfaces of roads or as a separating layer in road construction and water reservoirs.

“It is here that the defence ministry and the railway ministry can help. We are prepared to give this product at cost price to start with,” said Sudhakaran, who hails from Alappuzha district, considered a coir and coir products hub.

Sudhakaran feels Antony can help by sourcing coir geotextile from Kerala for use in building new roads on defence land.

Similarly, the railway ministry can help by using the product to hold together the raised embankments on which tracks run.

“Coir geotextiles can be effectively used to re-vegetate rocky patches by up to 80 percent,” said K.R. Anil, head of the newly set-up National Coir Research and Management Institute.

“The Chinese used wood, bamboo and straw to strengthen soil for thousands of years. The Dutch used willow fascines for dyke reinforcement. In the US, cotton fabrics were used for pavement strengthening between 1926 and 1935,” added Anil.

Kerala too has had some success, having used coir geotextile last year in constructing the road that leads to the Sabarimala temple situated on a hill top.

“A road built in the late ’90s using coir geotextile on an experimental basis in Alappuzha district is still holding up,” said Sudhakaran.

“We are now working with the public works department, which has agreed to include this product in its work manual, and use it to lay roads in waterlogged areas.”

Over the years, export of this product has also picked up to touch almost 3,400 tonnes in 2008, fetching Rs.14.45 crore ($2.95 million) in foreign exchange.