Forest Dept. to Haul up Tea Plantations

The tea industry could be in line for a nasty shock for the forest department has decided to haul up tea plantations that sell off shade tree stumps without the forest department’s transit pass.

According to the conservator of forest, northern circle, Mr MR Balooch, the tea plantations can fell shade trees with prior permission and the forest department issues transit pass for the timber. “But the plantations, by law, are supposed to distribute the stumps of the felled trees to its workers as firewood in keeping with the Plantation Labour Act. But it has come to our notice that almost 90 per cent of the tea plantations engage contractors to uproot the stumps once the trees are felled and sell these off to those contractors,” the CF said.

“It is a serious crime and untold sums get exchanged in the process. What makes it all the more serious is that the forest department does not issue transit pass for transporting shade tree stumps from the plantations, yet it is happening depriving the workers and flouting the forest rules,” he added.

According to the CF, no forest produce can be transported without the transit pass, which makes the buyers, who are the contractors and the sellers, who in this case are plantation management, equally guilty. The forest department, which has already “identified,” some plantations and contractors engaged in the offence had hauled up the Tea Garden Shade Tree Uprooting Association president Mr Saibal Dasgupta at Jalpaiguri today. Facing a tight situation though, Mr Dasgupta defended his association stating that members of his association purchased only legally felled timber from the tea plantations against proper document. “We shall try to find out which contractors are engaged in the crime,” he said. The forest department authorities refused to buy his argument and are planning action of their own.

Tea industry officials are also on the backfoot about the matter. “I would have to look into it before passing any comment on the issue,” Mr NK Basu, convenor of the West Bengal Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations, said. The Dooars Branch Indian Tea Association, which is the largest of the six tea associations in the region, is also cautious about its comments. “To the best of my knowledge almost every tea plantation adheres to the rule of distributing shade tree stumps among workers. But if there are offenders trading in shade tree stumps through contractors, this association would not espouse the case of the contractors,” DBITA secretary Mr Prabir Bhattacharjee, said.