Tea stocks hot on Dalal Street

Kolkata: Cuppa is once again hot on Dalal Street. The tea stocks have quietly moved up between 20 and 35 per cent in the past one month as improvement in domestic tea prices became visible.

The exports market, particularly of Northern Indian varieties (Assam, Dooars and Darjeeling), has also been showing signs of mark-up.

According to Mr Kamal Baheti, Director of McLeod Russel, world’s biggest tea producer, the quarter to December 31, 2007, should prove to be the best in recent years.

“This quarter has seen a price rise of Rs 10 a kg against Rs 7 in the third quarter of 2006,” he added. The exports are also fetching better value smothering the losses on account of the rupee appreciation against the dollar.

There is substantial shortfall in the availability of tea for domestic consumption, estimated to be growing annually by around 3 per cent. “The local shortfall in output, according rough estimates, could be in the region of 20 million kg at the end of the calendar year, while the demand growth suggests an expansion of about 20 to 25 million kg,” he said.

Industry experts said that the year-end carryover stock is lower than usual and this is now being reflected in the auction price trend too.

“Internationally, Sri Lanka’s production is estimated to be lower by around 20 million kg. Though Kenya’s production is stated to be normal, there is an overall demand-supply mismatch at the international level. This has already placed an upward bias in the prices,” Mr Baheti said.

Industry insiders and analysts seemed to think that the commodity cycle for tea might have seen the worst go by and the one-year outlook appears to be good. According to Mr Rajesh Agarwal, Director research of CD Equisearch, the realisations for tea companies are going up.

On the domestic front, he felt that the present trend might continue in the next few quarters. However, regarding export realisations, he was not very optimistic as he felt Kenyan supplies could become a spoilsport for an Indian tea party.

McLeod Russel on Thursday closed at Rs 86.25, up around a per cent. The stock has one more trigger in the new jatropha cultivation venture. However, Warren Tea was the biggest gainer, up over 7 per cent, followed by Dhunseri (5 per cent), Assam Co (5 per cent) and Jay Shree Tea (1.29 per cent).

Darjeeling Makaibari Tea at Ambuja Realty luxury resort

Calcutta: Hospitality major Ambuja Realty has joined hands with Makaibari, the oldest tea estate in the world, to set up a luxury resort in Darjeeling.

Tea gardens in Darjeeling usually have their own tourism ventures — modest initiatives with four to five rooms inside bungalows.

“We have finally decided on our partner for tea tourism. We could not have found a better partner than Makaibari, which is globally renowned for its tea. Now we will decide on the scale of the project and the investments involved along with the nature of the partnership,” said Harsh Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty.

The resort could get the Radisson tag depending on the outcome of the agreement between Carlson Hotels Worldwide, which owns the brand, and Ambuja Realty. The pact will be reviewed next month.

The project comes at a time when the Bengal government is finding it hard to get partners to promote tea tourism in state-owned estates, such as Hilla and Mahua. Both the estates belong to the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation.

To develop an integrated tea tourism circuit in Bengal, the Union tourism ministry had initially granted Rs 7.6 crore. It was, however, slashed to Rs 3.89 crore.

The Ambuja Realty project will showcase the history of Makaibari, which goes way back to 1859, and focus on tea-related activities such as factory visits, tea facial and spa, tea cuisine, tea tasting and plucking. It will also have a tea museum and crafts centre.

Around 60 per cent of an estate is used for cultivation. Ambuja Realty will acquire 24 acres, allowed under the state law for the utilisation of land in gardens.

As a part of budget tourism, Makaibari now lets out refurbished worker cottages to visitors.

Of the 86 gardens in Darjeeling spread over 19,000 hectares, Glenbury, Gleburn, Tata Tea and Ambootia have started their tourism ventures.

McLeod Russel India Limited has also developed a sprawling tea heritage property at its Adabari estate in the Balipara division of Assam. The Goodricke group has some facilities on a smaller scale at some of its estates.

Previously, foreign tourists made up around 80 per cent of tea tourism traffic. Now the ratio of foreign to domestic tourists has become 60:40.

However, tea tourism is still niche activity, with cottage tariffs ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 35,000 per day. There are additional charges for nature activities such as rafting, camping and walks.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea price surge fuels hope of turn around

Siliguri: Frantic end-of-season sales have taken tea prices to a new high in north Bengal, making this year the best since the industry went into recession about six years ago.

“It’s boom time with tea prices going up significantly,” said S.K. Saria, the chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Centre (Stac). “Although the benchmark set by the golden period of the 90s is still far away (see chart), this year’s is a remarkable gain compared to that of last year, which itself was better than the preceding year. The industry seems to have made a U-turn and if the trend carries on for the next few years, the tea sector will be able to regain its lost glory.”

The average price during Sale 50 held on December 20 was Rs 74.98 per kg, while that of Sale 49 held on December 13 was Rs 73.24, according to auction sources.

“The average price of Sale 50 last year was Rs 62.50,” said Ravi Agarwal, a former chairman of Stac and a member of Siliguri Tea Traders Association. “That is a gain of more than Rs 12.”

According to the latest figures, the average auction price this year — up to December 20 — is Rs 67.44 per kg. The corresponding figure in 2006 was Rs 66.60 and in 2005 Rs 59.29.

“This year’s average price is the best ever since the recession set in,” said P.K. Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association. “This end-of-season fillip will help keep the prices high until the middle of next year at least.”

Industry watchers said the price boom was driven by a combination of several factors.

“There was no tea in the pipeline,” Bhattacharya said. “In addition, there was a drop in the overall crop production by about 20 million kg. The shortfall in supply had an obvious effect on prices.”

The trend was also affected because several CTC manufacturers took to making orthodox teas, Agarwal said. “This year, more than 20 million kg tea was converted into the orthodox variety, which always fetches good prices. The shortfall in CTC helped boost its prices,” added Agarwal.

“Major buyers like Unilever who were silent for most part of the year, were at their active best as the end approached,” Saria said. “The competition from major buyers firmed up the prices further.”

However, all stakeholders of the industry agreed that it would be a challenge to sustain the trend.

“To take the industry forward, we have to ensure that we do not compromise on the quality of tea in our bid to sustain the boom,” Saria said.

“Often there is a tendency to compromise on quality to increase production and meet the increasing demands. If we give in to market pressure in this way, we will get sucked up into recession again,” the Stac chairman added.

Source: The Telegraph

Exemptions for frozen account

Jaigaon, Dec. 24: The regional provident fund office in Jalpaiguri has allowed the management of Dalsinghpara Tea Estate to deposit the education stipend sent by the Tea Board and the salary savings of workers under an LIC scheme in its account, which has otherwise been attached.

The account was sealed after the garden management defaulted on provident fund dues of nearly Rs 76 lakh.

The regional provident fund commissioner II, Jalpaiguri, Gautam, said the account of the garden in the United Bank of India’s Birpara branch, was attached in August. It was done after the management failed to respond to several pleas to deposit the amount deducted from the workers’ salaries as provident fund.

“The garden management had given several undertaking before the high court that it would pay up the dues, which stood at Rs 75.26 lakh till March 2007, in instalments but failed to keep its word,” Gautam said.

Kalatush Kullu, the unit president of the National Union of Plantation Workers, an Intuc affiliate, said because of the frozen account many schoolchildren had been deprived of the Tea Board stipend. “As it is we don’t get our salaries and ration on time. Now even schoolchildren are not getting their stipends. Last September, a draft of Rs 40,013 was sent by the board in the name of the garden manager. This was meant for distribution among nine students. The money is yet to be disbursed,” Kullu said.

A woman worker of the garden, Kabita Rana, said her son, Abhisek, who studies in Class XI at B.D. Memorial School in Jaigaon, was to have received Rs 7,334 as education stipend for one year.

Gautam said the representatives of several unions like the Intuc, Citu and the UTUC had appealed to him to exempt the education stipend and the salary savings scheme. “We found out that these two items had no bearing with the management and so gave them permission to use the account for these two purposes,” the regional commissioner said.

Sources in the garden said that the management was now operating through the account of the Dalmore Tea Estate, which is owned by the same Octavious Group. Their account, too, is in the same bank.

Source: The Telegraph

More tea benefits to small tea growers

New Delhi: Small tea growers in the country may soon get benefits enjoyed by medium and large tea garden owners .

Sources told Business Line that the Government and the Tea Board have already put in place a slew of measures to help the small tea growers with less than 25 acres. These include, among others, subsidy and grant in aid for their various developmental activities such as new planting, replanting, rejuvenation, pruning and infilling the vacancies, creation of irrigation facility, and organising them into self-help groups (SHGs).
Subsidy

Sources said Rs 53.36 crore has been disbursed under the ongoing schemes which is inclusive of Rs 20.85 crore disbursed as price subsidy. Though the aggregate production from small growers accounts for only 20 per cent of the total production, the financial assistance extended by the Tea Board during the last three years (2004-05 to 2006-07) of the 10th Plan works out to 27 per cent of the total assistance given to the tea industry, estimated at Rs 198.60 crore.
Price sharing

Sources said that the implementation of a price sharing formula with effect from April 1, 2004 was primarily to ensure that the small tea growers get a fair share of the price .

While calculating the actual price for the green leaf, the outturn percentage is also taken into account. The outturn percentages applicable to Tamil Nadu is 23 per cent, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal it is 26.40 per cent and for the rest of India it is 21.50 per cent.

Sources said that in some parts of the country particularly in North Bengal and South India, the bought leaf factories have not been adhering to the directives issued by the Board. All such factories in North Bengal have been identified and notices have been served on them with a warning that stern action would be taken if they fail to follow the directives.
CISTA launched

the Minister of State for Commerce, Mr Jairam Ramesh, said that he has launched the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Grower Association (CISTA) in Elappara in Kerala on December 15. Mr Ramesh said that he saw them as a great social force since they signify first-generation local entrepreneurship in the industry.

He said small growers accounted for 25 per cent of the country’s tea production with 39 per cent in Assam, 34 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 24 per cent in North Bengal and 10 per cent in Kerala. Mr Ramesh said the Department was engaged in ensuring how “we can give CISTA representation on the Tea Board”.

He said that he has written to State Chief Ministers about giving the small growers pattas or some sort of possession certificates so that they could avail of the schemes and loans . Only 10 per cent of them are registered with the Tea Board. He said the Board will fund a complete census of small tea growers which could be undertaken by the State Governments.

Source: Business Line

Stir for wage hike by tea workers soon

The CPI-ML general secretary and working president of the All West Bengal Tea Garden Labour Union, Mr Kanu Sanyal has alleged that the management of the Pahargumia Tea Estate was conspiring to lockout the plantation. “The winter season is a lean period for the tea industry. Taking advantage of the situation, the Pahargumia management is planning to lockout the plantation under any pretext,” Mr Sanyal alleged.

According to him, despite a peaceful situation in the plantation, the workers’ union affiliated to the AWBTGLU is being held responsible for an imaginary trouble in the estate, so to workout an excuse for the lockout. “The workers’ unions affiliated to the CPI-M and Congress are working hand-in-glove with the estate management in this conspiracy,” Mr Sanyal alleged.

Making it clear that the AWBTGLU was determined to foil the conspiracy, the Naxalite leader said, they would soon serve the Pahargumia management a memorandum on the issue.

On the other hand, demanding a wage hike for the workers, the AWBTGLU has resolved to launch a 10-day long agitation in Siliguri beginning next week. The agitation, to be carried out by workers of tea estates here, would be held at the Siliguri SDO office premise.

“In 2000, the Minimum Wages Act 1948 was shelved under the consideration that it would be increased in every three years. The arrangement was violated and instead of the scheduled hike in 2003, the same was materialised in 2005.” “Going by that, another wage hike is scheduled by April 2008, but no activities either on the part of the plantations management or the government, are visible till now,” Mr Sanyal alleged.

“The AWBTGLU would also resort to rail and road blockades and the movement would continue till wages are raised,” Mr Sanyal warned.

Source: The Statesman

All that is sold is not Darjeeling Tea

Did you ever bother to spare a thought for your bed tea? If not, it’s time you check out the brand of tea you consume every day. And, if you find it to be ‘Darjeeling Tea’ be cautious. Chances of it being a mix of a small quantity of ‘Darjeeling Tea’ and blends made from inferior tea from other regions are very high.

In fact, four times more tea than was actually being grown in the region was being sold as ‘Darjeeling’ in blends bulked out with inferior tea from other regions, causing a major dip in consumer confidence.

Fears of ‘Darjeeling Tea’ losing its charm have been growing for quite sometime now. Another factor added to the worries of ‘Darjeeling Tea’ producers was the plantations’ heavy dependence on fertilisers and pesticides that were being hawked by foreign corporations.

In the recent days, there is a wind of optimism blowing through the Darjeeling hills, and a growing sense that Darjeeling Tea is on its way to reclaiming its legendary status.

The first obvious step in the right direction was to protect the Darjeeling name. The Darjeeling Planters’ Association and the Central government have negotiated a geographical-origin trademark, approved by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Now any tea that calls itself ‘Darjeeling’ must be 100 per cent from the region.

In another move, several of the top-rated tea gardens — Selimbong, Seeyok, Samabeong, Singell, Makaibari and Ambootia — have converted to organic production.

Self-interest may be influencing the newer organic recruits. A surge in consumer concern about chemicals in food and drink has caused Darjeeling’s best customers — Japan, Germany, the UK and, increasingly, France and the US — to impose stricter pesticide-residue limits.

In Germany, where there is a profusion of specialist teashops, certain chains now have in-house laboratories to test for residues. Some packers of conventionally grown Darjeeling have had to blend it with organic tea to bring down the residues to an acceptable level. Whatever the motivation, organic tea is really taking off.

Even the labour force welcomed the move. They said before, chemicals were hampering their health. It was like poison. They used to fall sick quite often with coughs, headaches and chest pains. The chemicals were so strong and they didn't have masks. Now they can breathe fresh air again.

In all the organic gardens that are owned by Tea Promoters India, the once-serried tea bushes have now been inter planted with trees like wild cherry and plants such as lemon grass and sunflower that feed the soil with nitrogen and also stabilize it so it cannot be washed away during monsoons.

Chemical fertilizers have been replaced by natural worm composts, manures and bio-dynamic preparations made from plants such as yarrow and nettle, with impressive results. When there is any sign of the dreaded tea mosquito, the patch affected is sprayed with a natural insecticide, which is derived from the neem tree.

Darjeeling is one of the few remaining tea-growing regions in the world that still remains faithful to the higher-cost ‘orthodox’ tea production method which begins with the labor-intensive, hand-plucked 'two leaves and a bud' of new growth. It takes a painstaking 20,000 individually plucked shoots to produce just one kilo of tea.

It’s mind-boggling how, when gently withered, rolled, oxidized and dried under the vigilant eye of an experienced tea maker, the same bushes can produce such a diverse sequence of teas. It starts with the fresh, slightly astringent first flushes from the most succulent new spring leaves with their floral scents that tickle the German palate.

Then come the second flushes, munched by summer greenfly, which gives them the characteristic 'muscatel' scent unique to Darjeeling, which so excites Japanese buyers. Quality dips with monsoon teas, which are too damp to produce great results, but returns in the form of the stronger, smokier autumnal teas.

Within these seasonal categories there are further variations; pure, refined ‘China’ teas made from the original bushes imported from China 150 years ago, more vigorous ‘clonal’ teas bred for specific growing situations from the best-performing bushes, and semi-fermented Oolongs, still made in the time-honored way where the leaves are sun-dried and turned every 45 minutes.

These teas from top Darjeeling estates have always found a market among connoisseurs. But now the organic Fairtrade tea revolution is spreading like wildfire among independent farmers, previously marginalized by the traditional plantation system.

Whether it's the family farmer or a big tea estate, the new wave of organic and Fairtrade tea production sweeping through the region is breathing a new life into Darjeeling. But as one of the few regions in the world still producing labor-intensive, classic tea, Darjeeling will always be vulnerable to cheaper, commercial teas from countries where production costs are lower. Unless, that is, consumers are able to appreciate the difference in quality.

Tea was originally introduced to Darjeeling region in 1841 by a Scottish surgeon, Dr Campbell. The British grew tea more as a supply for the army than as a commercial crop, producing it in a traditional way, without chemicals. After India became independent in 1947, they sold up to wealthy Indians, imbued with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of rapid industrialization.

The push was on to make the tea gardens as ‘productive’ as possible. The new owners dismantled the carefully constructed terraces that had stabilized the soil, cut down trees to pack in more tea bushes, and turned with great enthusiasm to the miraculous new generation of chemical fertilisers and pesticides that were being hawked by foreign corporations.

This break from natural tea production proved disastrous and the effects started taking a heavy toll on the industry in the recent past.

Alarmed over this, the planters are now desperately trying to revive the old methods of tea production once again. Hope they succeed in their mission.

Source: Commodity online

Darjeeling Tea to be the first Indian commodity in the EU registry

GUWAHATI: Darjeeling tea is all set to be the first Indian commodity to be included in the EU registry for geographical indications (GI) — a move that will prevent tea originating from any other place from being sold under the name Darjeeling in the EU market.

India applied for inclusion of the product in the EU’s GI registry last week after completion of all formalities, including putting in place a domestic certification system and building a unified supply chain system for all gardens in Darjeeling. It may take up to two years for Darjeeling tea to be granted GI status by the EU.

GI is an indication that identifies a good as originating from a particular place and its reputation gets associated with the place. Once a country recognizes a particular product as a GI, its name cannot be used by the producers of the same product located at a different place. The EU GI registry offers protection to over 5,000 European products for exclusive use of their names.

Speaking to ET, Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee said the application for a GI in EU was a step in the right direction and could prevent the misuse of the name Darjeeling tea. Tea Board has fought more than 15 cases against infringement and misuse of the Darjeeling name in the last few years including from Sri Lanka, the US and France.

Tea Board was successful in seeking rejection of trademark application for Darjeeling Nouveau by US company Republic of Tea (ROT). The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board of the US ruled that ROT had not been able to prove that consumers view Darjeeling tea as a generic type, as opposed to tea from the Darjeeling region in India.

Another important victory for Tea Board was against French company Dusong’s adoption of the Darjeeling mark with a kettle device. The court of appeal of Paris, on November 22, 2006, ruled that Dusong’s mark impaired the GI Darjeeling and is prejudicial to the Tea Board’s interest.

Steps would soon be taken to get Kangra tea, a registered GI in India, to get an EU registry.

Modernization of tea business by tea board

The tea board is out to modernize the entire process of conducting brew business in the Dooars. Introducing e-auction is a step towards it.

“While we begin with the electronic auction of tea, we plan to carry out an overhaul of the entire system (of conducting business),” said Roshni Sen, the deputy chairman of the Tea Board here today. “It would make no sense in having a high-tech auction system if, for example, the warehouses are not state of the art.”

Accompanied by H.N. Dwibedi, consultant to the tea board, Sen was here with a three-member team from NSCiT, the information-technology arm and a fully-owned subsidiary of the National Stock Exchange. The NSCiT has been engaged by the board to prepare the software and create the infrastructure needed for the new system.

“We are here to take the opinion of all the stakeholders of the industry so that we are able to design a modernization plan to suit the needs of each of them,” Sen said.

This is the board’s second attempt at electronic bidding. Two years ago, it had introduced e-bidding in a phase-wise manner but the initiative was scrapped altogether after the software developed by then consultant proved faulty.

“Our earlier experience threw up a lot of problems, issues and defects,” Sen said. “We would want to use the experience to our advantage this time.”

Dwibedi said the initiative will be much more than just electronic-bidding. “Not just bidding, the new system will integrate the pre-auction, auction and post-auction processes,” he added.

In the e-auction system, it will not be mandatory for a buyer to be physically present at the auction center. He will be able to participate in the auction process through a unique user ID via a computer. “Registered members of a particular center will also be able to keep a tab on the trends of other centers though they may not be able to participate initially,” Dwibedi said.

NSCiT will be preparing a business requirement specification in the next 270 days.

“Once the system is developed, we will introduce it as a pilot project at the Calcutta auction center,” Dwibedi said. “Then we will introduce it in five other centers, including Siliguri.”

However, the board has no immediate plans for introducing electronic-bidding at the North Bengal Tea Auction Center in Jalpaiguri.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Gardens on auction

The Bengal government is set to offer two closed tea gardens — Ramjhora and Kanthalguri — in the Dooars to prospective entrepreneurs through auction. However, one of the conditions of the take-over is the settling of all dues.

The state land and land reforms department, which had cancelled the leases of both the gardens after their closure, has asked the Jalpaiguri district administration to arrange for open bidding within this month.

“We have been told to advertise in newspapers,” N.G. Hira, the additional district magistrate (general) of Jalpaiguri, said today. “Auction of the gardens will most probably take place on the third week of this month.”

Jairam Ramesh, the junior commerce minister at the Centre, during his visit to north Bengal in October, had said the responsibility of reopening Ramjhora and Kanthalguri rested with the state government. “Of the 13 closed estates, we will decide the fate of 11, either by persuading the old owners to reopen the estates or by acquiring them under Section 16 (D) or (E) of the Tea Act, 1953. The state is responsible for the remaining two, as it has cancelled the land lease.”

The state government has set some riders for the bidders. “Instead of fixing a floor price, we have set a precondition: any bidder interested in acquiring any or both the gardens has to bear the liabilities accrued with banks, provident fund (PF) department, workers and other stakeholders,” Hira said.

The previous management of Ramjhora Tea Estate — closed since August 2002 — has Rs 5.50 crore due with the banks, Rs 59.43 lakh with the tea board and Rs 58.12 lakh with the PF office. The total dues of the workers is Rs 1.64 crore. In Kanthalguri — closed since July 2002 — the workers do not have any dues. However, the earlier management has Rs 2.48 crore pending with the bank and Rs 11.65 lakh with the Tea Board. The figures are available with the Tea Board and district labour office.

“The bidder who gets the garden(s) will have to enter into an agreement with the government, mentioning details like when and how the liabilities would be cleared,” said Hira.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Brew hardshell meet

Tea growers in north Bengal are thinking of holding a convention to project the brew produced in the Dooars and Terai.

The India International Tea Convention (IITC) in Guwahati, which ended on Saturday, has left the stakeholders of the brew industry in north Bengal unhappy. Other than a session titled Indian Panorama, in which every variety and place of tea production was highlighted, the CTC brew produced in the Terai and Dooars was never mentioned during the event, said one of them.

“Tea from north Bengal was hardly highlighted,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “We feel it necessary to project the tea produced in the Terai and Dooars to augment its export like the Assam tea. The latter was presented as a premium brand at the IITC.”

After Guwahati, it is a two-day event in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra that has left many growers in north Bengal toying with the idea of holding a similar meet, focusing on the region’s tea.

Tying up with Tea Board of India and the Institute of Himalayan Bioscience Technology, the Kangra Valley Small Tea Producers’ Association will organize the conference titled Kangra Vision 2020 at Palampur from tomorrow.

“The basic idea is to promote the orthodox tea that we produce here for export and also for domestic consumption,” J.L. Butail, the president of the association, told The Telegraph over phone from Kangra.

Basu now plans to call up the tea board and the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations, an apex body of planters, to take the initiative for the north Bengal convention.

“Such an event will help a lot in promoting our tea overseas,” said Anand Agarwal, the president of the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association.

Source: The Telegraph

Indian tea to Russia

Siliguri : The first-ever official trade delegation from north Bengal is set to leave for a seven-day trip to Russia tomorrow with the hope of rekindling some of the lost business it had with the country, especially in tea.

Under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s North Bengal zonal office, a 12-member team comprising representatives from the tea, tourism and education sectors here will be meeting government, trade and business personalities from Moscow and Ufa, the headquarters of the Republic of Bashkortostan.

“We will be holding face-to-face discussions with representatives of organizations that have shown keen interest in doing business and trade with this region of India,” said Kamal Mittal, chairman of CII’s North Bengal Zonal Council and leader of the delegation speaking from Bangkok. He will be joining the rest of the team in Delhi tomorrow.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh currently on a visit to Moscow, the CII tour too is expecting sufficient attention.

The delegation will meet the director and members of the Bashkortostan Chambers of Commerce, the republic’s minister of external links, trade and entrepreneurship, and the business community as well as visit tea factories and distilleries.

“We shall be setting up a joint business center in Bashkortostan in conjunction with the mayor of Ufa,” Mittal said. The latter part of the tour will be with business representatives in Moscow.

“Our main agenda there will be tea. The Russians have expressed interest in joint ventures in this sector, including takeover of a few faltering gardens (in north Bengal), where 50 per cent of the investment will be done by them,” said Prabir Seal, spokesperson of the delegation and a CII zonal council member.

“They have also shown interest in importing tea from north Bengal. Several aspects of the likely deals have already been taken up through email, like the type of tea (CTC and Darjeeling), packaging, transportation and the joint collaborations. What we are taking with us are the samples and the prices, which we will tell them across the table,” Seal, also a tea trader, said.

The other members of the team comprise Sravan Choudhury, Rajkumar Dalmia, Ravi Agarwal, K.K. Tiwari, Vikas Bansal, Pawan Poddar (all tea), Prasenjit Saha (tea and liquor), Sujit Raha, K.K. Kedia (real estate and education) and Laxmi Limbu Kaushal, head of CII North Bengal.

“The export of tea to Russia dropped in the mid 1990s, before which 50 per cent of brew that went to that country was from India. In 2006, of the 181 million kg of tea exported, only 20 per cent went to Russia. The Indian government has set a $10 billion trade turnover target with Russia to be achieved by 2010,” Seal said.

Tea tourism, flori-culture, scope for bottling Russia’s favorite drink, Vodka, and several other areas will also be explored, Kaushal said.

Source: The Telegraph

Planter feedbacks screen on Monday meet

Siliguri : The committee formed for acquisition of closed tea gardens will meet at New Delhi on Monday to screen the feedback received from planters in Bengal.

Led by O.P. Arya, the additional secretary of the Union commerce and industry ministry, the committee was formed to acquire the gardens by invoking Section 16(E) of the Tea Act, 1953.

“Of the 13 closed gardens in West Bengal, we had served showcase notices to 11. The state will take care of Kanthalguri and Ramjhora, the leases of which have been canceled,” said G. Boriah, the director (tea development) of the Tea Board. “All the gardens have replied. The committee now plans to scrutinize the replies on Monday and to decide on their future plan of action.”

Though Boriah refused to divulge more, sources said most owners have quoted common problems like lack of funds and excess labor force leading to high cost of production that affected the plantations and factories.

Trade union leaders, who were eagerly waiting for the gardens to reopen, voiced their dissatisfaction. “Ministers and officials have made several commitments over past one year but nothing has improved for the workers,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers.

Source: The Telegraph

GI for Darjeeling Tea

New Delhi : The government is planning to make Darjeeling Tea an exclusive product of India. The tea variety will soon have a geographical indication (GI) in all international markets. In the absence of GI identification, the name is being used by any manufacturer or retailer from around the world, for any variety of tea. This leads to major revenue losses for Indian tea exporters.

At present, Champagne is the only products that commands a GI worldwide. The issue of GI for Darjeeling Tea has been doing the rounds for the last couple of years through various national and international forums. It was raised in a recent meeting of the commerce and industry ministry’s consultative committee by Congress MP Rajeev Shukla.

“The commerce minister has assured that the necessary formalities for GI registration is under process and should be complete soon,” Mr Shukla told ET. While the government has filed for GI in the US and Canada, it has also spruced up the process in other international markets.

India is the second largest producer of tea in the world and Darjeeling Tea is considered to be the most sought-after variety. Despite this, India commands less than 13% share in the export market. “To a great extent, this could be attributed to the fact that India is also the largest consumer of tea in the world. However, losses due to lack of GI for Darjeeling Tea cannot be ruled out,” Mr Shukla said.

The Center is also planning to set up a body which will monitor and regulate tea exporters. Import of tea from India has been banned in some East Asian countries, mainly on quality issues.

Till about the early 1990’s, India happened to be one of the leading tea exporters in the world. This share has continuously dipped since then, due to various reasons. However, in the last 6-7 years, there have been an aggressive takeover of tea gardens by corporates, and almost 80% tea production lies with the organized sector now.

Overall, the organized sector comprises around 1,600 tea estates with a holding size of over 10 hectares.

Source: The Economic Times

Tea worker reinstated in tea garden after 23 years dismissal

A worker was reinstated in Mogalkata Tea Estate after 23 years of his dismissal from the garden, thanks to a court order.

Pijush Khariya, 58, however, could not utilise the opportunity because of his age. He, instead, recommended his 20-year-old only daughter Sorpeena for the job.

The garden management, which took over the reins two months ago, allowed the girl to join work today.

A resident of Gudamline of the garden in the Banarhat police station area, Khariya and four others had been sacked from service in 1984 for allegedly gheraoing the then manager. The workers had been demanding their dues, said Pradip Mallick, the secretary of the central committee of National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), affiliated to the Intuc.

The management had also registered a case against the five workers with the Banarhat police.

“But in a blatant case of favouritism, the garden management had taken back four workers, who were the members of the Citu-controlled Cha Bagan Majdoor Union, the same year. Since Khariya was a member of the NUPW, he was not reinstated,” Mallick alleged.

The police had referred the case to the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Jalpaiguri.

In 2006, the court directed Khariya’s reinstatement in the garden after declaring him “innocent”.

Mallick said Khariya, however, is not staking any claim to his dues of 23 years.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Warehouse strike threat

Siliguri Tea Warehouse Association today staged a token strike to protest against the suspension of one of its members and threatened to launch an indefinite agitation from Monday if the decision is not revoked.

The decision to suspend the warehouse was taken by the warehousing advisory body (WAB), a sub-committee of the Siliguri tea auction committee (Stac). Following an inspection on September 3, the advisory body had felt that S.M. Tea Warehouse had failed to meet the hygiene and handling standards set by the tea auction committee.

The suspension came into force on October 16.

“The WAB is an advisory body and does not have the right to issue suspension notices,” said Nand Kishore Agarwal, the president of the warehouse association. “In any case, we feel the step taken is extreme. The members of the advisory body may have found some irregularities at the warehouse, but that does not mean they suspend it.”

Agarwal added: “If the auction center does not revoke the suspension order, we will go on an indefinite strike from Monday.”

Today’s strike did not have a major effect, but an indefinite agitation is likely to disrupt tea movement and throw the auction schedule in disarray.

Stac chairman S.K. Saria said the auction center's governing body had authorized the warehousing advisory body to initiate measures against warehouses. “S.M. Tea Warehouse was given a chance to explain and the decision to suspend it was taken after considering the explanations,” Saria added.

Secretary, Siliguri Tea Traders Association, alleged that warehouses here do not store tea bags under hygienic conditions and often mishandle them.

Source: The Telegraph

Black tea beneficial for blood sugar patients

A one gram drink of black tea may have the potential to stimulate an insulin response and reduce blood sugar levels, suggests new research from England.

The study, a four-way randomized, crossover trial, suggests that Britain's top tipple could have benefits for diabetics to blunt the blood sugar spikes, keeping the body's blood sugar levels relatively steady throughout the day. This has been linked to better regulation of appetite and a reduced tendency to snack.

Researchers from King's College London and the University of Central Lancashire recruited 16 healthy subjects and assigned them to drink 75 grams of glucose in either 250ml of water (control), 250ml of water plus 0.052g of caffeine (positive control) or 250 ml of water plus 1.0 or 3.0 grams of instant black tea.

Writing in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the researchers report that plasma glucose concentrations during the first hour in response to the drinks were not significantly different. However, after two hours plasma glucose concentrations were significantly in the group who consumed 1.0 grams of tea, relative to the control and caffeine drinks.

Moreover, drinking the black tea was associated with increased insulin levels compared with the control and caffeine drinks at 90 minutes.

The health benefits of tea, including protection from certain cancers and Alzheimer's, have been linked to the polyphenol content of the tea. Green tea contains between 30 and 40 per cent of water-extractable polyphenols, while black tea (green tea that has been oxidized by fermentation) contains between 3 and 10 per cent.

The four primary polyphenols found in fresh tealeaves are epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epicatechin.

Chemical analysis showed that the tea was rich in polyphenolic compounds (total, 350mg/g).

Bryans and co-workers state that the polyphenol content of the tea was most probably behind the effects. They state that these compounds could have an insulin-stimulating effect on pancreatic B-cells - cells responsible for insulin production.

"It is important to note also that the physiological effects seen in this study were relatively small and were achieved under test conditions.

"Under normal tea drinking conditions before or after food, the presence of other phenolic compounds could potentially alter, or even enhance, the effects seen in our study.

"It is certainly an area of research that warrants further investigation," they concluded.

The global tea market is worth about €790m (£540m, $941m). Green tea accounts for about 20 per cent of total global production, while black tea (green tea that has been oxidized by fermentation) accounts for about 78 per cent.

Source: Journal of the American College of Nutrition
Volume 26, Number 5, Pages 471-477
"The Effect of Consuming Instant Black Tea on Postprandial Plasma Glucose and Insulin Concentrations in Healthy Humans"
Authors: Judith A. Bryans, P.A. Judd, P.R. Ellis

Small tea growers demand

Small tea growers of north Bengal have threatened to start a movement after the Pujas, demanding that the state government speed up the process of issuing no-objection certificates (NOCs) to their plantations.

Most of the plantations were created by converting farmland or fallow land and the government needs to give a no objection to this change. The NOCs, in turn, will help the growers get registered with the tea board and avail of its financial assistance schemes.

“We will soon write to state government officials and ministers on the matter,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-chairman of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations.

There are around 15,000 small growers in the region and they produce about 25 per cent of the state’s total yield. “Only 4,500 of them have NOCs for their plantations from the land and land reforms department,” said Chakraborty.

Currently, only 2,500 growers are registered with the tea board. The others are missing out on Rs 24,000 per year per grower paid by the board as subsidy, said forum chairman Partha Pratim Pal. More than 3,000 applications for NOCs are lying with the land and land reforms department.

Source: The Telegraph

Agro Bio-diversity in tea culture

In order to make the ailing tea gardens profitable, the Tea Research Association is experimenting with introducing agro bio-diversity in tea culture.

The experimenting has started with inter-cropping in some old tea gardens where productivity has fallen, resulting in low profitability. With productivity decreasing in older gardens, inter-cropping is one of the best methods to make them viable.

“We are experimenting with several crops which can be grown in similar conditions,” Dr M Hazarika, director, Tea Research Association said. The crops which are being tested for growing along with tea are, black pepper, amla (Indian gooseberry), cashew nut and betel vine.
The project has a dual purpose, that of enhancing the quality and flavor of tea as well as to make the gardens more profitable.

“We are trying to find an ideal combination of crops which will grow well with tea as well as may help develop different flavours. The crops also need to be grown in a small space so as not to overshadow the tea shrubs,” Dr Hazarika observed.

The move has been propelled by the continuous depression persisting in the Indian tea market resulting in closure of several tea gardens.

A number of others in West Bengal and Assam are ailing because of decrease in profitability.
“The government is doing its bit by providing funds for re-plantation through the Special Purpose Tea Fund to replant tea shrubs in old tea gardens. This apart, the industry has to encourage innovation and research to survive in the long run,” Mr CS Bedi, chairman, TRA said.
The Association, for the first time, has completed chemo-profiling of more than 100 varieties of Assam tea and about 30 varieties of Darjeeling tea. Biotechnology will play a big role in the turnaround of the Indian tea industry. It will bring down the conventional breeding trial period from 10-12 years to about five years as well as result in new varieties, Dr Hazarika said.
It has also selected several varieties of water-logging resistant tea which is presently under trial in 26 gardens of Assam and West Bengal for commercial exploitation.

Another innovative experiment being carried out is the use of insects to enhance the flavor of Darjeeling tea. Tea is one of the most chemically complex plants. It has been noticed, some insects feeding or living on its leaves increases the flavor.

“However, we need to study the phenomenon further to arrive at a conclusion,” Dr Hazarika said.

Source: The Statesman

More of Organic Black tea

Kolkata : India’s organic farming efforts will see a sea change in the tea sector following the launch of the project to develop organic black tea with funding from the Amsterdam-based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), a UN body.

According to Tea Board officials, the project is set to take off in the current year itself. Under the project, the Tea Board will receive from CFC $9,00,000 as loan repayable over seven years and another $6,00,000 as grant.

The agreement between the Union Government, which will be the guarantor to the loan, the Tea Board and CFC will be signed in this year.

Three model firms, each of 100 acres, will be set up in Assam (near Tinsukia in Upper Assam), West Bengal (Darjeeling district) and Tamil Nadu (tea growing areas in Annamalai hill range of the Western Ghat).

The technical support will be provided by Tocklai tea research station in Assam, Tea Board’s research center in Darjeeling and Upasi Tea Research Foundation in Tamil Nadu.

The thrust of the CFC-funded organic black tea project will be to standardize the organic tea growing practices through proper technical support, assess the market and determine the demand to establish its commercial viability and to have a proper certification procedure.

Tea social security measures need to be retained

A central committee has recommended that social security measures provided under the Plantation Labor Act, 1951, need to be retained.

The 13-member committee was constituted on March 5 this year after complaints from trade unions poured in about the violation of the act. Planters, too, had said they were finding it difficult to bear the cost of statutory benefits.

“The panel was formed to investigate the demand to amend the act,” said Aloke Chakravorty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc, the Congress’s labor wing, and a member of the committee.

On September 17, the panel submitted a report, making a number of recommendations, some of which are:

* Responsibility of providing houses to remain with the plantation owners

* Tea industry may set up referral hospitals through public-private partnership

* Government sponsored schemes like Swajaldhara (for drinking water) can be implemented in gardens

* Provisions for alternative cropping should be there in the lease agreement but area not to exceed 10 per cent of total land

* Gardens should be allowed to use their facilities for eco-tourism without changing the character of the plantation

“After talking to the stakeholders and with the help of available data, the committee has found out the cost that each employer has to bear—for statutory benefits—per kg of tea,” said a source in the ministry. “In case of north India, it is Rs 4.12 per kg of made tea and in the south it is Rs 3.44 per kg.”

“The yearly expenditure comes around to Rs 592 crore,” the source added.

Simultaneously, the committee has recommended that the government share part of the expenditure.

“Funds may be mobilized by imposing an additional excise duty of Rs 1 per kg on packaged tea. In return, the government will provide health, drinking water and education at subsidised rate. This would generate about Rs 30-35 crore per year. Tea to be exported will be exempt,” the report said.

Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, confirmed that his ministry has received the report.

“We are likely to take a decision soon,” he said over phone from Delhi.

Planters said they could not comment, as they are yet to leaf through the report.

Source: The Telegraph

Darjeeling Tea article by Matt Gross

DARJEELING, India: The Himalayas rose almost out of nowhere. One minute the Maruti Suzuki hatchback was cruising the humid plains of West Bengal, palm trees and clouds obscuring the hills to come; the next it was navigating a decrepit road that squiggled up through forests of cypress and bamboo. The taxi wheezed with the strain of the slopes.

For an hour or more, as we climbed ever higher, all I saw was jungle with hardly a village to break the anxious monotony. Finally, around 1,200 meters, or 4,000 feet, the foliage opened just enough to allow a more expansive view. From the edge of the road, the hills flowed up and down and back up, covered with low, flat-topped bushes. Tiny dots marched among the bushes and along the dirt tracks that zigzagged up the hillsides - workers plucking leaves from Camellia sinensis, the tea bushes of Darjeeling.

Flying to a remote corner of India and braving the long drive into the Himalayas may seem like an awful lot of effort for a good cup of tea, but Darjeeling tea isn't simply good. It's about the best in the world, fetching record prices at auctions in Calcutta and Shanghai.

In fact, Darjeeling is so synonymous with high-quality black tea that few non-connoisseurs realize it's not one beverage but many: 87 tea estates operate in the Darjeeling district, a region that sprawls across several towns (including its namesake) in a mountainous corner of India between Nepal and Bhutan, with Tibet not far to the north.

Each has its own approach to growing tea, and in a nod to increasingly savvy and adventurous consumers, a few have converted bungalows into tourist lodging, while others are accepting day visitors keen to learn the production process, compare styles and improve their palates.

I set out to travel from estate to estate last March during the "first flush" harvest, said to produce the most delicate, flavorful leaves. (The second flush, in May and June, is really just as good.)

My first stop was Makaibari, an estate just south of the town of Kurseong, around 1,500 meters above sea level. Founded by G.C. Banerjee in the 1840s, during the region's first great wave of tea cultivation, Makaibari remains a family operation, run by Banerjee's great-grandson Swaraj - better known as Rajah. Rajah is a Darjeeling legend: He's arguably done more for Darjeeling tea than anyone else in the district. In 1988, he took the estate organic; four years later, it was fully biodynamic, the first in the world.

Today, it produces the most expensive brew in Darjeeling, a "muscatel" that sold for 50,000 rupees a kilogram (about $555 a pound) at auction in Beijing last year. You won't often spot his logo on grocery store shelves, but you'll find his leaves in boxes marked Tazo and Whole Foods.

After checking into one of the six no-frills bungalows he has erected for tourists, I met Banerjee at the Makaibari factory (opened in 1859). What, he asked, did I hope to accomplish at Makaibari?

"Well," I said, "I guess I'd like to see how tea is made."

"Ha! You've come to the wrong place for that," Banerjee declared with an eager grin. "This is the place to see how tea is enjoyed!" Then he poured me a cup - bright but mellow, with a faint fruity sweetness that lingered on my tongue. It was to be the first of many perfect cups.

Enjoying tea at Makaibari was an involved business. At 7:30 every morning, Mr. Lama, the grandfatherly caretaker, would present me with a cup of fresh, hot "bed tea," which I'd sip groggily before leaving my woolen blankets for the chilly mountain air. At breakfast in the glassed-in common room, more tea, after which I'd go to the factory. On one side of the road were the tea bushes. On the other, the prayer flags of a Buddhist monastery fluttered in the Himalayan breeze. Children on their way to school would shout "Hello!" while their parents, many of them Makaibari employees, would put their palms together and quietly say, "Namaste."

In Makaibari's offices, I'd have a cup while waiting for Banerjee to arrive. After making his entrance, Banerjee would expound on everything from Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic farming theories to the fall of Atlantis to his youth on Carnaby Street in London, where he made a fortune before retreating to Darjeeling to grow tea.

Eventually, we'd move into the tasting room, where Banerjee would inspect the day's production. This was "SFTGFOP," the labels noted: super-fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe, the healthy, unbroken leaves from the very top of the bush. Earlier, an assistant had weighed out precisely two grams from several batches, steeped them in nearly boiling water for five minutes, and strained the tea into white ceramic bowls.

As with wine, tasting tea is no simple process of gulping and grading. Banerjee first inspected the infused leaves for color and nose, and only then sipped from each bowl, inhaling sharply to oxidate the liquid and release its flavors, and sloshing it loudly around his mouth before spitting it into a nearby tub. Then, with hardly a moment's hesitation, he'd move on to the next bowl.

"Taste those two," Banerjee ordered the first day, "and tell me which you prefer." I did as he said. Both had the gentle floral aroma typical of first-flush Darjeelings, but the second had a pronounced strength and astringency that appealed to me, even though I knew that Darjeeling growers try for subtlety over punch. I told him my decision.

"Bah!" he said after resampling them. "That one only has undertones of peach. The first one has peach flavors and is much more complex. It's far superior!"

I blushed - I had much to learn. And for the next few days, I studied hard. First, I followed the tea pickers - mostly ethnic Nepali women - into the fields. "Dui path, ek suiro" was what they plucked - "two leaves, a bud" - slowly transforming each bush from bright yellowish green to the deep sheen of the older leaves.

In the factory, massive steel machines were turning the harvest into drinkable tea by the "orthodox" method. After 16 to 20 hours in withering troughs that remove much of their moisture, the fresh leaves go into rollers that curl them into precise formations once achieved only by hand. Then comes the fermentation, during which the tea develops its flavor, becoming a half-fermented oolong or a fully fermented black tea. Next the tea is fired - baked - to stop the fermentation, and the leaves are sorted, graded, packed and sent to the tasting room for Banerjee's approval.

After exploring Makaibari's hundreds of hectares of wilderness, I moved on to Glenburn. This century-old planter's house, meticulously restored, stood on the edge of a plateau. The suites were vast, kitted out in teak club chairs and four-poster beds that evoked the Raj. The man responsible for Glenburn's tea was Sanjay Sharma, 33. As estate manager, he has tried to push the production in new directions, and he asserted that Glenburn now ranked No. 17 in the district. Sharma's first-flush teas had that wonderful flowery scent and a long, lingering aftertaste, with just a hint of bite.

Alas, Glenburn was booked, so I went on to Goomtee, a resort recommended by Nathmull's, the best tea shop in Darjeeling. In terms of luxury, Goomtee stood somewhere between Makaibari and Glenburn. The comfy planter's house recalled 1950 rather than 1850, with huge rooms and a garden of azaleas, and since the owners of the estate were vegetarians, so were the guests - myself and four Japanese women. After checking in, I followed them and their translator to the fields.

And I began to fade. I was about to drop off entirely when an assistant brought in a full tea service and poured us each a cup. I sipped. This is what they mean by "brisk," a bright flavor that fills your mouth and wakes you up.

I soon learned more about briskness, when I set off one morning for Muscatel Valley, Goomtee's organic fields. If Makaibari had been wild and Glenburn a fantasyland, then Muscatel Valley was positively prehistoric, with massive stone outcroppings amid lonely fields of tea bushes.

When I returned to my room, I flopped down in exhaustion. How, I wondered, could these professionals differentiate among the infinitely subtle gradations of flavor and scent? What stuck in my mind was the tea-ness of tea, floral aroma, hints of fruit and wood on the palate, and a fragile astringency that buzzed in my mouth long after the liquid had gone down. But which cup had that been, the Makaibari or the Glenburn? Or had I just imagined it?

By Matt Gross

Puja grant for closed tea garden workers

The Bengal government today declared a festival grant of Rs 750 each to workers of closed industries in the state.

The grant is expected to bring relief to the labourers of 13 closed tea estates in the Dooars and two in the Darjeeling hills.

“The state finance ministry has given the approval today. We now have to ensure that workers in closed gardens and other closed industries receive the grant before Diwali,” Bengal urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said at a news conference here this evening.

So far, the state government had been paying Rs 750 per month to the jobless workers of the closed tea gardens under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries scheme.

“We demand that the Centre should pay Rs 750 per month out of its own funds to boost our grant,” Bhattacharya said. “This would take the monthly allowance to Rs 1,500, thus bringing some relief to the workers.”

Source: The Telegraph

Fund use mismatched at tea garden

Workers of the closed Kanthalguri Tea Estate today kept nine members of the operations and maintenance committee (OMC) confined to the garden office for six-seven hours, accusing them of defalcating Rs 10 lakh.

The accused nine were detained by police in the evening. “The workers’ complaint has been accepted. We have asked the police to arrest the OMC members and produce them in court tomorrow,” said Jalpaiguri subdivisional officer Atanu Roy.

The nine, all trade union leaders, owe allegiance to different political parties, including the CPM, Trinamul Congress and the Congress.

A number of closed gardens in the Dooars are run by OMCs, which oversee plucking and sell the green tealeaves to other factories.

Trouble started at Kanthalguri in the morning.

“We went to the office to ask the members about our dues,” said Brahma Oraon, a worker. “We also wanted to know what happened to the funds received from the government under schemes like 100-days’ work, old age pension and stipend for the handicapped. But they misbehaved with us and we got angry.”

A few hundred workers locked the office with the members inside. Even a force from the Banarhat police station could not disperse them. Finally, in the evening, the police escorted the OMC members out of the office and took them to the police station.

An employee at the garden office, however, said a minor incident was being blown out of proportion. “It was a trivial dispute about a loan granted by the block development office to some of the workers for doing petty business during the Pujas,” he claimed.

Source: The Telegraph

Labor Pain in the tea gardens

It is an idea which evoked mixed reactions across the tea gardens in India. The move was a big success in the southern parts of the country with the Tata Tea Limited (TTL) fostering a partnership of its workers and employees to run the Kannan Devan tea gardens in Kerala’s Munnar region. But the same project is facing birth pangs in the northern parts of India with workers in West Bengal and Assam tea gardens expressing apprehensions over the concept.

In fact, the Kerala success had encouraged TTL to try this in the north Indian tea gardens, better known as North India Plantation Operations (NIPO) in Assam and West Bengal. However, the company is optimistic that its new concept of partnership of workers in the management of the tea gardens would be hailed as a landmark measure in the Marxists-dominated polity of West Bengal.

The TTL had initiated reorganization of its four tea gardens at Damdim, Rangamutti, Newara and Batabari with 10,000 workers from April 1 this year. The gardens are located in the Duar region of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. Same efforts are continuing in Assam where the management is reportedly getting wholehearted cooperation from both the workers (around 20,000) of the 20 gardens and the two trade unions — Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha and Assam Chah Karmachari Sangha.

In its four gardens in West Bengal, the TTL has begun the process of converting the company into a new entity — Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL). “The APPL had technically come into being on April 1, 2007 itself. But some hoardings at certain gardens still show the old name. The reason is that there persists some ambiguity about the very concept and vision of the new entity. The workers are still ruminating on the idea of having partnership through shares in the company. They fear that the Tatas may have the vicious design to gobble up their gratuity and provident fund once the company becomes operational contending that the workers — after becoming part of the management — could not claim the benefits.So no worker has bought any share in the company till now and the new entity is virtually in a limbo in the region,” says Rajen Pradhan, a former manager at a tea garden.

Pradhan, however, feels that the apprehensions of workers are unfounded. Tatas have been the most magnanimous company in the tea gardens as far as the welfare of the workers is concerned. No other garden in the region does as much as Tatas do for their workers, he said. So the new partnership move would be certainly good for the workers in the long-term.

However, the ambiguity has cropped up because it is something very unique and unprecedented for the tea gardens in the region. Pradhan, who has visited the south Indian gardens, including the Kannan Devan plantations in Kerala, told Commodity Market that “the new partnership concept has come as a bonanza for the workers in Kerala. Their status has uniquely become a combination of both wage-earners with all benefits like gratuity, provident fund, bonus and other incentives and the proprietors with returns on their equity shares in the company. This is not happening anywhere else. As a matter of fact, our workers should lap up this new move”.

Shakil Rafique, deputy manager of the TTL at Damdim, said the new partnership concept “is a pro-workers innovation. It has notched success in south Indian tea gardens. And I am sure it is going to be a success in north India too. Some people are floating the wrong notion that the new concept is a bait that Tatas are throwing to the workers, employees and executives to swallow and gradually get rid of their myriad onuses in running the gardens. It is not like that at all. Tatas are today a highly upwardly mobile and dynamic corporate house with growing global dimensions. They would never even dream to betray their workers. After all, only honesty, transparency and commitment are the ladder to success in business today,” remarks Rafique.

According to Rafique, Tatas would be arranging long-term soft loans at low interest rates for the workers to buy shares in the company and the loans would be gradually deducted in small amounts. In this, the workers will not have to part with their funds in gratuity or provident funds to buy the shares. Their such funds would remain intact. Explaining the reasons for workers’ reluctance, Rafique said in the recent past several tea gardens had been closed down in the region.

“So it is natural that Tatas’ such concept would spawn some suspicion in the minds of workers. They may tend to surmise that Tatas are planning to disengage themselves from the loss-incurring tea gardens. But this is not the case. Tatas have never closed down their ventures merely on the ground that they are incurring losses. Rather, Tatas have always successfully tried to find remedial means to turn the losses into profits in their typical way,” Rafique said.

But Chanu Dey, vice-president of the Maoists-controlled West Bengal Chai Bagan Majdoor Union, considers the Tatas’ proposal “as an eyewash”. “This is simply a bait to trap the workers. But the workers are not going to swallow it,” remarks Dey, whose union has the control over the workers in the four gardens of West Bengal. He said: “Sometimes back we got a proposal from Tatas that they are envisaging to restructure their company in order to make workers partners in it. They proposed that every permanent worker will have to pay Rs 8,000 to the new company, APPL, for which they would be given commensurate equity shares in it. The staff would have to contribute Rs 20,000 to 25,000 and the executives would also buy shares in the new company.”

According to Dey, the Tatas’ proposal envisaged a share structure like 21 per cent shares for workers and staff; 19 per cent for Tata management and 60 per cent for various banks and funding agencies, but the company (read Tatas) would have special powers which will enable them to have full control over the administration of the gardens and other related affairs. “Our union has rejected the proposal. We have held intensive consultations with the workers of the four gardens on the issue. But the workers have unanimously decided not to pay anything or buy any shares in the new company. Above all, we have told the company to hold consultations with the workers on their own. And they did so, but they too failed to win the workers to accept their proposal,” states Dey.

He said: “In South India workers are not like the workers in our tea gardens. They don’t live in the tea gardens. Their relationship with the gardens are only of workers. But in north India, workers and tea gardens have umbilical relations. Workers have no independent status of their own. They live here in the quarters of the company within the gardens and are permanently wedded to them through the system of gratuity, PF and other benefits like highly subsidised weekly rations, including for their aged , minor and even unemployed adult dependents. The rations are given at the rate of merely 40 paisa a kg of rice or wheat. This system has continued for over 100 years. But once the workers become share-holders, they may be gradually deprived of these benefits. The management would tell them that they were not mere workers of the company but its proprietors too and hence they could no longer behave like the past. If the company incurs losses, the burden would be shifted to its share holding workers. So we have decided not to be mesmerized by the new partnership plan of the Tatas and continue to be its workers. No doubt, Tatas as management have been much more generous to their workers compared to other tea gardens. So we don’t want to lose that generosity by becoming their partners.”

Rannen Datta, a veteran of Darjeeling tea industry and consultant to several tea gardens in Darjeeling, said: “Tatas’ concept of partnership of workers in the tea gardens is indeed a novel experiment. However, Tatas have no interest in Darjeeling and so this novel concept is not going to come to Darjeeling in the near future. But I don’t see any contradiction in principle in this novel concept. It should work creatively in Tata tea gardens anywhere. They have already notched success in south India. Actually, the principle is that the agricultural part of the undertaking will now be shared. The interests, the stakes of the agricultural part will be shared by all workers and employees and the marketing part of it will be done by the Tatas. So what is the problem? I think this would boost the productivity and earnings potential of the tea gardens,” remarks Datta.

Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) that spearheads the conglomerate of 87 tea gardens on Darjeeling hills, has a mixed opinion about the Tatas’ move. “What Tatas are doing now, the Hindustan Lever has done a few years back. The Hindustan Lever is a major player in marketing tea. Now Hindustan Lever, Brooke Bond and Lipton have merged into one. What they have seen is that tea gardens are a labor intensive unit. Besides, the tea plantations are exposed to the vagaries of nature which means if there is drought, there is a drop in production. Being labor intensive they are prone to lockouts. Gardens may be locked up. Then again production drops. And they have seen this over a period of time. Since they are strong in marketing they have found it easier to source raw materials from outside than to run their own plantations and produce leaves themselves. These are the primary reasons that Hindustan Lever has left out and sold out its plantations,” explains Mukherjee.

Source: CommodityOnline

Bonus Row and loss of job

Four hundred workers of the closed Bharnobari Tea Estate have been left in the lurch after an alleged assault bid prompted two financiers to abandon the garden.

A notice declaring suspension of work was put up yesterday in Malangi Out Division, 45km from here. The Main Division of the garden — shut since December 2005 — is run by an Operations and Maintenance Committee.

One of the financiers Tapan Das said unless the Jalpaiguri district administration promised them security, work will not resume. Das along with Raja Bhattacharjee had been buying tea leaves from the Out Division since early this year.

According to an agreement with the financiers, workers were paid daily at the rate of Rs 45, office staff members Rs 100 and drivers Rs 60 for the period covering March 13 to December 31. There was no promise of bonus in the deal signed in the presence of an administrative official.

However, for the past few days the workers had been clamoring for bonus. A bipartite meeting was held on Monday and when Das and Bhattacharjee refused to give in to the demand, members of Cha Bagan Majdoor Union — affiliated to the Citu — and Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, an RSP-backed body, allegedly tried to beat them up.

“They even threatened to kill us,” said Das.

Charku Lohar, a member of the Jaigaon Block Committee of Majdoor Union, has denied the allegations. “Some of the workers may have shouted out of frustration. That is natural. But nobody tried to beat them up.”

Source: The Telegraph

Alleged leopard attack kills boy

The decomposed body of a seven-year-old, with its lower part missing, was found in Rangamati Tea Garden in Malbazar today. Workers claimed that the boy was killed by a leopard.

The body has been sent to Jalpaiguri for post-mortem.

“The boy, Sushen Orao, was missing since Saturday afternoon,” said Sylvester Minz, a worker of the garden located 55km from here on the fringes of Neora Valley National Park. “This morning, when we went to the Ranikhola line to work, we were led to the body by the stench. Its legs and the left hand were missing.”

The spot where the body was found is less than 1km from the workers’ quarters, but no one had visited the area over the past two days.

After the discovery, the workers rushed to the tea garden office claiming that a leopard was behind the killing. The management informed forest officers in Malbazar, who arrived soon after along with police.

“Though the mutilated body suggests a leopard attack, we cannot say anything for sure because there were no eye-witnesses or pug marks nearby,” said Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer of wildlife division II. “But if the post-mortem report says the child was killed by a leopard, we will pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the family.”

The workers said circumstantial evidence suggests it was a leopard that killed Sushen. “The boy was walking home with his elder brother Jogen on Saturday afternoon. Jogen later said he had heard shouts from behind (Sushen was trailing him) and turned back to find his brother missing,” said Jaitu Orao, a worker.

A search for Sushen had proved futile, Jaitu added.

Source: The Telegraph

Bonus for closed tea garden workers

Workers of closed gardens, too, will get “bonus” this year, the operations and maintenance committees (OMCs) have promised.

However, they have refused to call it bonus. It will be known as kharcha or bakshish.

“This is because we are distributing a portion of the OMC income among the workers,” said Sova Chhetry, the convener of the OMC at Kalchini Tea Estate, 33km from here.

The OMCs were set up in gardens that faced lockout or were abandoned by the management. The workers run them with help from trade unions. The leaves produced are sold either to other gardens that have factories or to bought leaf factories

In Kalchini block, four gardens — Kalchini, Raimatang, Chinchula and Bharnobari — are lying closed for not less than two years. Kalchini workers will get their kharcha tomorrow.

“Last year, because of a shortage in funds we could not give anything to the workers. This time, the labourers have worked from March 12 to September 28. The number of working days comes to around 113. A worker who has worked for all the days will receive more than Rs 700. There are 1,273 workers in Kalchini Main division while in Kalchini Out Division there are 730 workers, who will receive more than Rs 750,” said Chhetry.

In Raimatang Tea Estate, the number of workers is 1,258 and all of them will get Rs 800 each as bakshish. For Chinchula, the situation is different.

Gopal Goyel a buyer of tealeaves from the Out Division, has taken the charge of 500 workers. All of them will get Rs 1,500 each on the basis of last year’s performance.

Bharnobari Tea Estate, under Hasimara police station, however, will not distribute bakshish. Maximum starvation and malnutrition deaths (the figure is around 90 from December 2005 till date) were reported from this garden.

Madan Sarki, the convener of the garden OMC, said: “We have lots of expenses. We have purchased chemicals for tea bushes and have to pay the electric bill. So we decided against baksheesh. The workers too have agreed.”

Sarki also said that the VIP visits to the garden have done nothing to improve it condition.

“So many of them came, but the status remains the same,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph

Estate acquisition by government if owner doesn't respond

The tea board has told the owners of closed gardens to explain within October 16 why the Centre should not take over their estates by invoking Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act of 1953.

The owners have already missed two earlier deadlines (in August and September), though this is the first time that they have been showcaused.

“We are not sitting idle,” Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh told The Telegraph yesterday. “Showcause notices have been served to them (the owners) on October 5 and if they do not respond within the specified date (October 16), we will go ahead with the acquisition.”

Section 16 (E) allows the Centre to take over the management of a tea estate and give it to another entrepreneur without any inquiry if the garden remains closed for three months or more.

The minister, who was on a two-day tour of north Bengal, added that the showcause notices ask for specific information from the owners. “Like what liabilities they have, how they plan to settle their provident fund dues, the discussions they have had with the trade unions, whether they have found new investors and when they can reopen their gardens,” Ramesh explained.

From bankers, the tea board has asked for an assessment of the capacities of the existing owners, viability of the gardens, possibility of financial restructuring and details of liabilities.

“We cannot say that the gardens will open before the Pujas but there will certainly be a major change in the next one month,” Ramesh said.

Fox Mandal, a Calcutta-based law firm, has been also asked to draft an advertisement seeking expression of interest from entrepreneurs willing to take over acquired tea estates. “Some prerequisites will also be mentioned in the advertisement to be released in various newspapers,” Ramesh said.

The minister added that the board has received at least five proposals from new entrepreneurs, including some “big tea companies” and “local businessmen”.

For the 18,000-odd workers of the 13 closed gardens in north Bengal, Ramesh announced a festival grant of Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000 per family. “The money will definitely be disbursed before Diwali.”

Source: The Telegraph

Truck loaded with tea falls off bridge

A tea-laden truck fell off the army-built Krupman bridge on the Sudani at Domohani late last night, blocking traffic on NH34 for a couple of hours.

Prompt action by the army jawans posted at the site saved the driver and the cleaner. The vehicle, however, is still in the river.

The army said the truck, travelling from Siliguri to Calcutta, probably weighed more than 25 tonnes, the permissible limit for vehicles wanting to cross the floating bridge. Following the accident, cracks have appeared in three of the beams of the bridge’s mainframe.

The project-in-charge of the bridge, Lt Col. Kumar Abhishek, said the truck had crossed over to the other side and was climbing up the bank when it stopped and slid back on to the bridge. It careened to the left side of the causeway and hit the beams placed on the rafts under the bridge before toppling over.

“The noise of the crash alerted the jawans manning the bridge. They rushed in and rescued the driver and the cleaner,” Abhishek said.

There is a fear that the cracks caused by the accident might widen if vehicles weighing more than 25 tonnes keep crossing the bridge.

In the past, trucks appearing to be heavier than that have had to be allowed to pass because the slips issued by nearby weighbridges showed their weight to be less than 25 tonnes. To solve the problem, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had installed axle pads, or portable weighing machines, on both sides of the bridge to double-check the weight of vehicles. But recently the NHAI took away the pads.

“As a result, we cannot challenge any truck even if we are sure that it is overloaded,” an army source said.

Project director of the NHAI’s Malda division, Srikumar Bhattacharya, said axle pads could not be a permanent solution.

“However, we shall install them at the site once more,” Bhattacharya said.

Source: The Telegraph

New library at Makaibari Tea Estates

Kurseong : From The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai to Timi Bhayako Nabhayako Bhela by Nepali author Satish Rasaily — the new library at Makaibari Tea Estate has it all.

The community library, which has come up in a single room on the garden premises, 3km from here, was the brainchild of two US visitors Mike Matergia and Denna Weiss. It was inaugurated today by Srirupa Banerjee, the wife of Makaibari owner Rajah Banerjee, in a program attended by workers of the estate, management staff members and children from a primary school near the estate.

“We came here to work on a community health program. During our stay, we got involved with the people here and decided to build a library for them. At present there are 1,600 books, a TV with DVD player, and one computer to be used by students,” said Mike before the inauguration. Both Mike and Denna are from Pennsylvania.

“The people really have been wonderful in lending support to the library project. We had been working day and night so that we could inaugurate it today as we have to go back soon,” she said.

The Community Health Advancement Initiative — an NGO based in Darjeeling, which conducts community health programs in the garden — has been instrumental in building the library and learning center.

“We mainly looked after the construction of the building and its interiors. We are happy that the people here will also have a library,” said Sunil Gurung the project officer of the NGO.

A committee comprising representatives from seven villages here will look into the functioning of the library for the first two months.

Source: The Telegraph

Higher puja bonus for the hill tea estate workers

Darjeeling: Workers of tea estates in the hills will be paid Puja bonus at higher rates than last year, it was decided at a bipartite meeting at the Planters’ Club here last night.

The bonus issue was settled quickly in the plains this year and the pattern was repeated in the hills. The Darjeeling Tea Association and the GNLF-affiliated Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union settled for bonus at the rates of 12.60, 11.60, 10.60 and 9.25 per cent of total annual income of workers of Grades A, B, C and D gardens respectively.

Last year, the bonus rates in the hills were 12 per cent (Grade A), 11.50 per cent (Grade B), 10 per cent (Grade C) and 9 per cent (Grade D).

The grade of a garden is decided on the basis of the number of workers it employs, size of the plantation area, production and turnover.

There are 15 tea estates in Grade A, 16 each in Grades B and C and 13 in Grade D in the Darjeeling hills. Together, they employ more than 55,000 permanent workers and 50,000 casual labourers.

Planters have expressed satisfaction at the early settlement. “Both parties mutually agreed on the bonus rates,” said Sandip Mukherjee, the secretary of the planters’ association.

“Given the increase in salaries and wages, Rs 7,000 per month (Rs 84,000 per annum) will be considered the upper limit for bonus calculation,” Mukherjee added. It means those who earn more will not have their bonus calculated on their entire income.

Unlike Mukherjee, union leaders said they were “not entirely satisfied” with the settlement. “The good thing is that the rates fixed this time are higher (than last year) and the issue was settled early,” said N.K. Kumai, the president of the workers’ union.

“We want the planters to ensure that the bonus is paid on time,” Kumai added.

Industry sources said the bonus would be paid by October 6. Gardens in the Dooars and the Terai have agreed to pay bonus to their workers by September 30.

Source: The Telegraph

Leopard found dead in tea estate

Foresters recovered the carcass of a full grown male leopard from Tirrihanna Tea Estate in Naxalbari today.

The predator had been sighted in the area on several occasions by the residents in the past few months.

“They had informed us about the animal and we had laid a cage in the area to trap it and were monitoring its movements,” said Kanchan Banerjee, the range officer of Sukna Wildlife Squad.

The carcass was spotted this morning by the chowkidar (guard) of the garden in the Jabra division located close to the Dalka forest.

“As soon as we received the information, our staff members passed it to the forest officials who came and took the body away,” said Jagmohan Shahi, the garden manager.

The carcass was brought to Sukna where three vets conducted the post-mortem. Forest sources said the animal might have been poisoned.

“Samples have been collected and would be sent to laboratories in Calcutta for tests,” said S.P. Yadav, the divisional forest officer of Kurseong. “We cannot say anything about the cause of death till the reports arrive.”

Source: The Telegraph

Mapping of tea belt in the Darjeelig hills

The Indian Space Research Organization would map the tea belt in the Darjeeling hills. Along with that, Isro would also provide information on the extent of forest cover and ground water situation in the Darjeeling hills through satellite imagery. The proposal was agreed in principle between Isro officials and the Darjeeling Tea Association today coordinated by the Tea Board of India.

As a follow-up to today's meeting, the DTA, which is the negotiating body for the Darjeeling hill based tea plantations, has agreed to send a concrete proposal to the Isro soon. It is likely that monitoring stations would be set up in the seven valleys of the Darjeeling hills for the exercise. Admitting about today's negotiations, the DTA secretary, Mr Sandeep Mukherjee, said: "The Isro has agreed to set up village resource centers in some tea plantations of the Darjeeling hills. A number of facilities related to health, education, pest control, market, soil, infrastructure, agriculture and water management would be provided through the VRCs in addition to tea growing and management."

The DTA has urged the Isro to organize a 72-hour weather forecast for the Darjeeling hills as weather, which is a vital factor for tea growing and manufacturing, has been mischievous for the Darjeeling plantations this year, hurting the industry.

Forewarned by Isro forecasts, the plantations would be able to take precautionary steps henceforth.

In addition to weather forecasts, the DTA has also sought satellite imagery on forest cover and shade tree cover in and outside the plantations along with ground water condition in the Darjeeling hills.

It was learnt that the exercise, which is included in the 11th Five Year Plan would be part financed by the Isro. "The Isro would bear the first three years' expenses along with maintenance and provide the logistical support. The engaging agency, which in this case is the DTA would take over thereafter," the DTA secretary, added.

Source: The Statesman

Tea Board to Advertise tea

The figure is 1kg in Pakistan, around 1.5kg in Sri Lanka, 1.2kg in China, but only 730gm in India.

The abysmally low annual per capita consumption of tea in a country that produces 900 million kg of the beverage every year has prompted the Tea Board of India to employ two private agencies to find a solution to the problem.

“So far, we concentrated on increasing exports while the domestic market took a backseat,” G. Boriah, the director (tea development) of the board, said over phone from Calcutta. “Now we have decided to conduct a study on the pattern of tea consumption in the country and launch new ad campaigns.”

The new advertisements will be in addition to the existing television promos, he added. The Union finance ministry has sanctioned Rs 35 crore for domestic tea promotion under the 11th five-year plan. In the 10th plan, the amount was Rs 16 crore.

Sources said the board has selected Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) for the ad campaigns and ORG-Marg for the survey.

Boriah said the board would also monitor “the standard of tea bushes and factories”. “It is clear that unless tea consumption is increased across the country, it would be tough for the industry to sustain itself, keeping in mind the possible increase in supply once the special purpose tea fund is put to use,” he said.

The special fund is to be used to rejuvenate and replant tea bushes in gardens across the country.

Tea board officials said the domestic market has huge potential. If people in India have 2-3 more cups of tea every day, it would lead to an additional consumption of 75 million kg per year, one of them said.

The board is also looking at “iced tea” to increase sales. “India’s climate is hot and people here prefer cold beverages,” Boriah said. “The proposal to offer them something cool like iced tea was finalised earlier and now we would project it through campaigns. It is likely to hit the market by next summer,” he added.

A few companies, however, have already launched iced tea on their own.

Source: The Telegraph

6 closed tea gardens to be govt. run

The Union minister of state for commerce, Mr Jairam Ramesh today announced that the Center would take over six closed tea gardens in the state, the errant owners of which have so far failed to cooperate with the government for reopening these gardens, despite several rounds of talks.

He also promised to announce an assistance package for sick tea gardens soon.
Mr Ramesh announced this after holding talks with owners, bankers and trade unions as well as separate discussion with the state commerce and industries minister, Mr Nirupam Sen and the state finance minister, Mr Asim Dasgupta.

The commerce and industry minister said that seven tea gardens are likely to reopen by the end of this year among the 13 closed ones in Dooars, although he refused to name them.

Among these gardens two are likely to open by October and two more by the end of this year. The state government, which has cancelled the lease in case of Ramjhora and Kanthalgudi tea gardens, will go for bidding for these gardens by next month.

However, the Mr Ramesh said that the Center would invoke Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act of 1953 to take over the gardens lying closed for more than three months without investigation or finding a new management for the gardens. This is the first time the Act would be invoked since its inception.

A committee set up the Center would look into the modalities of the transfer in the next 15 days. "The owners of tea gardens in West Bengal are solely responsible as they are delaying the reopening of the gardens on one pretext or the other.

In Kerala and Assam, where there are a number of closed gardens, we did not feel the need to threaten anybody but it is only in the case of West Bengal where invoking 16 (E) has become inevitable to protect the livelihoods of workers. This is our last resort since several rounds of talk have failed,” said Mr Ramesh.

There will also be another survey of the sick tea gardens and some assistance will be offered to them as well. The state finance minister also promised a support scheme for the closed and abandoned gardens including 75 per cent exemption in stamp duty and registration fee and rescheduling of arrears taxes and electricity charges.
It will also allow the utilization of unused land in tea gardens for other purposes. The Union minister of state also announced a plan for setting up of a tea park at Siliguri, a joint venture between the state government and the Tea Board on 50 acres of land with warehousing, storage, blending and packaging facilities.

He also proposed a Special Tea Zone at Darjeeling. The STZ would be a joint venture between the state government and Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) for greater export of Darjeeling tea with value addition.

Mr Ramesh also admitted that both the Center and the state government woke up to the distress of tea garden workers much later.

Meanwhile, the state food processing industries and horticulture department today signed a memorandum of understanding with APEDA for setting up of a post harvest handling and auction centre for pineapples with an investment of Rs 10 crore in Siliguri and an integrated potato development and export facilitation center in Hooghly with an investment of around Rs 6 crore.

Mr Ramesh also announced that the Center would fund setting up of a vapor heat treatment plant at the cost of Rs 10 crore for Malda and Murshidabad mangoes to treat the problem of fruit flies so that these mangoes can be exported to Japan by 2009.

Source: The Statesman

Tea workers block road

More than 500 workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate blocked the Hasimara-Bhutan road for nearly six hours today to demand the reopening of the garden.

Later, they lodged an FIR against the owner, Arvind Poddar, for his failure to deposit the employer’s share of provident fund (Rs 2.10 crore) and pay gratuity (Rs 55 lakh) to the workers.

The estate, with more than 2,000 workers, has been closed since December 2005. Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh recently hinted that a new owner wanted to take over Bharnobari, but nothing came of it.

Today, around 200 vehicles travelling to and from Bhutan got stranded on the road because of the blockade. Bharnobari Tea Estate is located beside the road.

The agitation was supposed to run for 12 hours, but was called off midway after Jaigaon police intervened.

“We have started a case against Poddar under Sections 406 and 409 of the IPC (criminal breach of trust),” said Achinto Gupto, the officer-in-charge of the Jaigaon police station.

“If Poddar is not arrested and our garden is not opened within a week, we will call a 72-hour strike,” said Citu leader Madan Sarki.

On September 3, three directors of the company that owns Kohinoor Tea Garden in Samuktala surrendered in court after they were accused of defaulting on provident fund dues.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Puja bonus meet

Tea planters from north Bengal and trade union leaders will meet in Calcutta tomorrow to discuss the Puja bonus.

The discussions this time will be held in the shadow of a crisis in the industry as heavy rains and bad roads have clogged the supply chain holding up payments that run into crores of rupees.

“It is paradoxical that the talks will be held at a time when the tea companies lack working capital to make regular payments,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “It is imperative for the government to repair roads on a war-footing. The situation would worsen otherwise, leading to the stopping of activities in many gardens.”

Shashank Prasad, the president of Tea Association of India, echoed Basu. “Given the present situation, the participants of tomorrow’s bipartite bonus meeting should keep in mind the affordability factor in the interests of the entire industry.”

The trade union leaders, however, are not ready to give up their share.

“The business in the last financial year has been good and we plan to demand a higher bonus than last year,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, an umbrella body comprising most of the garden unions.

The crisis in the industry has also affected the small tea growers in the region.

“We are being compelled to sell green tealeaves at abnormally low prices over the past couple of weeks. The rates are lower than the production cost of Rs 6-Rs 6.50 per kg,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Association.

Source: The Telegraph