Tea Board writes to Centre on Darjeeling shutdown

With tea producers in the Darjeeling region facing an estimated Rs 150-crore loss as gardens face a near one-month closure, the Tea Board of India has taken this up with the Union commerce ministry and the West Bengal government.

In separate letters to both, the Board has apprised them on the situation, based on inputs from trade bodies and individual producers, said its deputy chairman, S Sarangi. And, asked the state government to suggest how the gardens could be reopened.

Since June 9, the 87 gardens in Darjeeling are closed. First, trade unions had called for a strike to implement a minimum wage programme, supported by the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the largest party in the Darjeeling hills. Thereafter, as political tension escalated on the Gorkhaland issue, the GJM called for an indefinite strike and the tea estates didn’t reopen. The industry estimates 1.6 million kg of tea, a fifth of annual production, has been lost since June 9. Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) had approached the Tea Board for help, to reopen the gardens and a subsidy for the monetary loss.

“There is no precedent for the subsidy they (tea gardens) are asking for. However, we’ll check on what other assistance can be provided, like expediting of replantation and orthodox subsidies to help maintain the cash flow,” Sarangi told this publication.

Since the beginning of the current calendar year, despite a 4 per cent increase in average tea prices in the first flush (the term for first plucking in the season), the Darjeeling region has had a nearly 30 per cent production loss, on account of erratic weather.

Binod Mohan, chairman of DTA, said the first and second flush were 70 per cent of the industry’s annual revenue and both had been hit. “These developments, back to back, have put the industry in a precarious position and is bound to affect the balance sheet,” S S Bagaria, chairman of the Bagaria Group, told this daily.

Industry officials say as neither the state government nor the GJM is budging from their stances, leading to indefinite garden closure, the Board needs to step in.

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