Provident Fund Default by Dalsingpara Tea Estate

The provident fund office in Jalpaiguri has issued a show-cause notice to the management of the Dalsingpara tea estate for not depositing their and the employees’ portion to the fund.

Sources said till June, the garden has defaulted on an amount of over Rs 1.43 crore.

“Besides issuing the letter, we have also filed an FIR against the manager and the director of the garden,” said V. Kumar, additional provident fund commissioner, Jalpaiguri. “We have even sealed the bank and broker accounts of the estate.”

Stating that the employees’ contribution had been deducted from their wages, K.K. Jha, the manager of the garden, said only the head office knew why the amount has not been deposited to the fund.

“This is a criminal act and many retired employees of the garden are not being able to avail of the provident funds due to the non-payment of the mandatory amount,” said Pravat Mukherjee, the general secretary of National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW).

The NUPW unit president at the garden, Kalatush Kullu, said there are about 3,000 provident fund account holders in Dalsingpara. “The management has not been depositing the employees’ contribution since August, 2004. It has put the workers — especially those who have retired and the next of kin of those who have passed away — in trouble,” Kullu alleged.

He said in June last year, a tripartite meeting was held in the office of the additional provident fund commissioner in Calcutta. “An agreement was signed, which stated that not only would the management deposit the default account in instalments, but the monthly deposit would also be regularised. The management has not kept its word,” Kullu said.

Mukherjee alleged that the provident fund office was not utilising the six enforcement officers it had in Jalpaiguri. “The tea gardens in the district have a default amount of over Rs 75 crore and the officers should take immediate steps against it,” Mukherjee said.

Source > The Telegraph

Ration for tea Laborers

Tea garden labourers across north Bengal will receive their rations from the respective garden managements for the next six months, as the government uses the time to prepare for the shift to the public distribution system (PDS).

This was decided at a meeting between state food minister Paresh Adhikary and Sharad Pawar, his counterpart at the Centre. The meeting, which was held at Krishi Bhavan in Delhi was also attended by Cooch Behar MP Hiten Barman and senior Forward Bloc leader Debabrata Biswas.

The Union minister has promised the state that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) will restart allotment of foodgrain to the tea industry, at least for the next six months. The minister’s assurance will now hopefully defuse the resentment brewing among the 3 lakh garden workers, who have not received rations since the beginning of this month.

The FCI had halted the allotment of foodgrain in the current month after the Centre made a final decision to bring all tea estates under the purview of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Under this system, the labourers will have to buy the cereals from ration shops at PDS rates. At present, the rations are distributed by the garden managements at heavily subsidised rates, as a component of their salary.

“At the meeting, we explained the problem in the estates after distribution of ration was stopped. Sharadji was cooperative and extended the existing system for at least six more months,” Adhikary told.

The decision has brought a reprieve for both trade union leaders and planters of the region, who seemed headed for a showdown if the stalemate continued.

“We were apprehending a major crisis in the gardens as we cannot give rations to the workers this month,” said N.K. Basu, principal adviser to Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

“We have made it clear that the supply of foodgrain is a part of their wages. It is good that the Centre has decided to restart allotment. Otherwise, it would have been a severe blow to the workers,” said Alok Chakraborty, the district secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW).

Source > The Telegraph

Darjeeling Designer Teas

Champagne from the East now comes in different shapes and sizes!

Darjeeling Tea has always been treasured for its unique muscatel flavour. But some gardens have decided to add a little something extra to help sell their produce. Driven by cut-throat competition despite high demand, they have started creating designer tea to woo elite customers.

From the handcrafted Olympic Flame, which resembles a torch, to the pearl-shaped Dragon Pearl, which opens up into two leaves and a bud when dipped in hot water, designer tea is soon becoming the latest fad among connoisseurs across the globe. The latest marketing ploy seems to have far greater potential than earlier innovations like Green and White tea.

“Retailers in Germany have sold Olympic Flame for as much as Rs 25,000 per kg and the market for such tea is huge. We are already looking at producing 8,000-10,000 kg of such tea annually,” said Shiv K. Saria, the managing director of Gopaldhara Tea Estate.

The designer variety is not only eye-catching, but is also made of the finest quality Darjeeling Tea. For example, Dragon Pearl is intricately finger rolled and comes with a tinge of jasmine and mint flavours, which itself is a new experiment to go with the unique flavour of Darjeeling Tea.

Many tea gardens in Darjeeling have started producing designer tea, but most are catering only to foreign clients. “We are, however, looking at ways of making it available to domestic consumers and have just started retailing it accordingly,” said Saria, whose two others gardens — Avongrove and Rohini — are also specialising in designer tea.

Of course, such tea does not come cheap and market experts believe that retail prices in India will start from Rs 5,000 per kg onwards.

Saria can now look back with satisfaction at the time when he took the first big risk by buying scrap machines, worth Rs 5 lakh, to produce designer tea. “Now I expect to invest another Rs 15 lakh to increase the variety,” he says.

In fact, the Rohini tea estate, which had closed down earlier, has seen a complete change in fortune thanks to the new product. The three gardens conduct estimated business of around Rs 1 crore annually through designer tea alone.

While the concept is not entirely new — China has been specialising in designer tea for quite some time — it does speak volumes about the changing marketing trends in the Darjeeling tea industry, which, so far, relied solely on its unique flavour.

Vivek Chettri, The Telegraph, India

No Food grains for Tea workers

No tea garden in north Bengal has received its monthly allotment of foodgrain for the month of July.

Now as the deadlock nears a month, the situation is on the verge of turning volatile. So much so that food minister Paresh Adhikary today said he would go to Delhi on Monday to sort out the problem with the Centre.

“We are aware of the problem and have already decided to take it up with food minister Sharad Pawar,” Adhikary told.

The tea industry wants the government to act fast. “We have sought the chief minister’s intervention in this regard as the situation is becoming difficult. We were forced to halt distribution of foodgrain to workers in all the 280 gardens of the region after allotment was stopped this month,” said N.K. Basu, principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

The stoppage follows the Union food ministry’s decision to launch Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in the tea estates. This would mean that garden labourers, who used to get their rations from the estate management as a component of their wages, will henceforth have to buy the cereals from ration shops at BPL rates.

The gardens, which were outside the purview of the PDS, used to procure the foodgrain from Food Corporation of India at the PDS rate of Rs 3.26 per kg and distribute it at 40 paisa per kg per worker every week. In addition, another 2.2 kg of foodgrain was distributed for each dependant of the worker.

The central food ministry, however, decided to bring the tea estates under the PDS system and thus stopped allotting foodgrain to planters.

“This sudden stoppage has put us in a spot and if the deadlock continues, it might lead to largescale labour resentment and management representatives will have to face the wrath,” Basu said. “Considering the rise in prices, it is also not possible for us to purchase foodgrain from the open market and distribute it at subsidised prices.”

Trade union leaders, who consider the ration as a component of wages for the tea garden workers, are against the proposed PDS scheme. “Under the system, workers will have to purchase foodgrain from ration shops at BPL rates. This is detrimental to the interest of the workers,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers.

“By launching the scheme, the government is trying to cut down the workers’ wages. This arrangement will only benefit the management, who are trying to shirk their responsibilities,” the leader added.

Source: The Telegraph

Signs of Improvement in Jalpaiguri Tea Auction

Jairam Ramesh’s visit to the district has started taking effect, as indicated by the sales register of the tea auction centre in Jalpaiguri.

After the Union minister of state for commerce and industries returned to Delhi after a two-day visit to Jalpaiguri and Siliguri earlier this month, the volume of sale recorded on two consecutive Tuesdays (the sale day at the centre) has shown signs of improvement, officials at the centre said.

Ramesh, who had a discussion about the problem of poor inflow of tea to the auction centre, had specifically told the stakeholders if the industry especially, planters of the Dooars, that they should route the roasted tea to the centre.

“After the minister’s visit, the inflow of tea to the auction centre warehouse and its sale have increased substantially,” said Kamal Bhattacharya, the chief executive officer of the Jalpaiguri centre. “Instead of the usual 2,000-3,000 kg that finds its way to the centre, we received 14,598 kg of tea last Tuesday, of which 11,004 kg was sold.” The average price recorded on that date was Rs 60.87.

“We have already received 8,500 kg of tea for the next sale,” Bhattacharya added.
Members of the auction committee also said new sellers, mostly from the Dooars-based estates, have started sending their produce to the centre.

“We are thankful to the minister. His visit has proved fruitful for us,” said N.K. Basu, secretary, North Bengal Tea Auction Committee said. “But, at least six months have to pass before we can say the centre is on its revival path.”

The 20-odd buyers registered with the centre are also of the same view. “After the intervention of the minister more tea is coming to the centre. But still, the warehouses remain unutilised,” said Jyoti Prakash Mitra, secretary, North Bengal Tea Buyers’ Association.

D.P. Roy, the Congress MLA of Jalpaiguri, said the Centre has agreed to set up a tea park near Siliguri to deal with the infrastructure problem of the industry.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Tourism in West Bengal

West Bengal plans to develop tourism centered around tea.
Tea tourism is high on the West Bengal government’s radar. It intends to upgrade accommodation, construct log-cabins, renovate heritage bungalows and undertake landscaping to give a boost to this sector.
While the state is seeking funds from the central government — state tourism minister Manab Mukherjee has asked Ambika Soni for Rs 8 crore for a “tea tourism package” — it has received a host of proposals from the tea-estate owners, says Mukherjee.
Some tea-estate owners have already got tea tourism off ground. Among these are Rajah Banerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate, the Chamarias of Phaskowa and Anshuman Prakash of Glenburn Tea Estate.
Glenburn, which was opened to tourists around three years ago, is a exclusive boutique hotel where guests put up at the Burra Bungalow, or the Glenburn Lodge on the banks of the Rangit.
At Rs 8,000-10,000 per person per night, it is very high-end, and as much as 80 per cent of the clientele comprises foreigners. In Dibrugarh, Assam, the owners of Mancotta Tea Estate have taken a similar initiative to open up the heritage “chang” bungalow to visitors.
Tea-tourism at Makaibari, an initiative that’s about a year old, is of a different kind. Visitors here have the choice to stay at the heritage Stone Lodge where the four suites have separate toilets and running hot-water, or they can stay in any of the 20-25 houses of tea-garden workers where they can be close to nature and the community.
Says Abhra Bhattacharjee of Help Tourism, which has been working with Banerjee to initiate tourism on Makaibari Tea Estate, “The objective is to encourage tourism while also ensuring that the benefits reach the communities directly affected.” In Makaibari, all activities are managed by locals through a group called “Hum Tera”, which stands for both “we are for you” and “we 13”.
Even the revenues from tourists go to the villagers. Besides visiting the tea-factory, horse-riding and bird-watching, guests are encouraged to sample local culture and handicrafts. In addition, they can also get a feel of a restored Darjeeling Himalayan Railway engine.
While tea-tourism is quite a hit with foreigners, local traffic too is opening up, says Bhattacharjee. “Earlier, the mix of foreigners to Indians was 80-20, now it is 60-40.” Help Tourism has bookings for its lodges for the 2007 season too.
But all these tea-estates — Makaibari, Phaskowa, Glenburn, Mancotta — are not too far off motorable roads. Not all gardens have this advantage.
Says Prakash of Glenburn, “The roads are a huge deterrent, especially for the foreigners.” Banerjee had to lay down two-kilometres or so of road to the Stone Lodge.
He has also put in Rs 4 crore to do up the cottage, and accommodate the staff. But looking at the response, the investment has more than paid off.
Banerjee is now looking to develop the lodge into a five-star property, and is in talks with established players like Fortune Hotels, Carlton and Mayfair, as well as banks for the Rs 15-20 crore investment required. There is obviously more to tea than just the usual cuppa.

Source: Business Standard