Tea Board may offer garden stakes to Darjeeling workers

Representative Image
The Tea Board may consider offering stakes to workers in the tea gardens of Darjeeling, which have been shut for over 80 days due to a political disturbance in the region.

The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) has sought Rs 400 crore assistance from the Tea Board and the commerce ministry but the board is unlikely to provide a grant.

Sources said the board might instead offer the unpaid workers stakes in the tea gardens either as individuals or cooperative societies. The Tea Board will meet on September 18 to discuss this proposal and other alternatives before meeting tea garden owners at the end of the month.

“We have a mandate from the commerce ministry to work out a package for the Darjeeling tea estates. Protection of livelihood of the workers needs to be ensured,” PK Bezboruah, chairman of the Tea Board, said.

Since the gardens closed in mid-June, tea garden workers have not been paid. A DTA official said if workers did not report for work they were not paid.

A Tea Board official said a grant alone would not put the gardens back on track, but “some help” would be provided. Around 29 owners or companies own the 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling.

The Tea Board’s idea is similar to what Tata Global Beverages, formerly Tata Tea, did with its plantation business, forming the  Kanan Devan Hills Plantations in the Munnar region in 2005 and Amalgamated Plantations in Assam in 2009. Workers picked up 60 per cent of the subscribed share capital of Kanan Devan Hills Plantations and 10 per cent of the subscribed share capital of Amalgamated Plantations.

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