Covid-19: Despite Centre's directive, West Bengal keeps tea estates shut

Banerjee reasoned that northern West Bengal is located strategically and shares international borders with countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
Stating that the situation to be still volatile in northern West Bengal owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has refused to allow tea estates in the state to open for business. 

This is despite the Centre's directive allowing tea companies to resume plantation activities with 50 per cent workforce across the country.

Banerjee reasoned that northern West Bengal is located strategically and shares international borders with countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, it is also is India’s sole gateway to the North-East and Sikkim.

“We need to observe it carefully for some more time and not rush into allowing the estates to open now. The trend in Kalimpong is not good and it is better not to put tea estate workers at risj of infection,” Banerjee said.

While many estates are close to Kalimpong most usually maintain self-isolation all year round.  Six people from the family of a woman in Kalimpong who died on April 2 have tested positive for Covid-19.

“The state administration is actively monitoring the situation in northern West Bengal and  this decision may have been taken to control the spread of the infection,” an industry official having estates in Darjeeling and Dooars said.

Tea companies however feel whatever hope of salvaging their losses existed has now been shattered. “We had hoped some recovery would be made this month. But it will be a no-production scenario now and heavy losses will be incurred,” said D P Maheshwari, managing director and CEO at Jay Shree Tea and Industries.

Goodricke Group’s managing director, Atul Asthana said the entire 0.8 million kg (mkg) prime crop in Darjeeling has already been destroyed due to the lockdown and the crop in Dooars will also take a hit.

West Bengal accounts for around 28 per cent of the production in April, which usually hovers around 85 mkg. Assam accounts for 54 per cent and the rest is contributed by south India.

“There will be losses that we will incur in April,” Asthana said.

The Assam government is yet to take a decision.

It has been estimated that owing to the lockdown, 100-130 mkg of tea valued at around Rs 2,000 crore will be lost.

Nevertheless, plantation companies are of the view that if the lockdown ends in mid-April and plantation activities restart, the necessary preparations for the second flush beginning in May can be made, where there will be lower chances of any crop loss.

“Once gardens reopen, skiffing needs to be done first and it will take 8-10 days before any tea can be made,” Asthana said.

Officials pointed that tea production in West Bengal cannot begin before mid-April.



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