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13 Mar 2017

Concern over tea industry viability

TT, Siliguri, March 12: Stakeholders of the tea industry in north Bengal have expressed concern over sustainability because of inadequate profit and sporadic incidents of violence.
M.K. Tyagi, the chairman of the Terai branch of the Indian Tea Association (TBITA), said at the annual general meeting of the outfit in Siliguri on Thursday: "In Bengal, the rise in the annual production in 2016 is around 9.35 per cent. But the most interesting fact that emerges from the figures is that of the total production of around 360 million kg, more than 200 million kg are produced from leaves sourced by small growers. While the regular gardens in the Terai recorded an increase of 1.73 per cent, the overall increase in the small grower sector was around 15.30 per cent."
Such a situation, he said, indicates that tea estates in the region are bearing the brunt of low or no rise in production. However, the production is on the rise in small tea plantations.
The TBITA chairman said unpredictable weather conditions was one of the key factors affecting production.
"The Terai region is always considered to be the most vulnerable. It witnesses long drought spells. The 'no-rain period' is increasing every year because of the climate change. This is increasing the number of pest and mite attacks, adding to the cost of irrigation and affecting the overall bush health and production," Tyagi said.
He said the Terai region received rainfall for hardly six months a year.
"Because of the erratic distribution of rainfall, there are floods. Till May last year, the rainfall was 60 per cent less than the previous year. After that, there was heavy downpour in June and July. The industry was badly by both situations," a weather expert based in Siliguri said.
At the meeting, Tyagi urged tea planters to switch to cashless payments as payment of tea garden workers' wages has been a problem since the demonetisation drive in November last year.
"However, workers will have to face problems unless issues like banking infrastructure and Internet connectivity are not addressed," he said.
Representatives of the tea association also spoke on the issue of wage revision. The three-year wage agreement of the north Bengal tea industry will end on March 31.

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