Russians and Indias Tea Industry

The Russians are seeking to undo some of the damage they had done earlier to India’s tea industry.

If some years ago they gave the industry a setback of sorts by dumping Indian tea for Chinese and Ceylonese varieties (one of the major reasons for the crisis in the tea industry here), a group of Russian businessmen are now interested in not only buying brew from the region but also investing jointly in the sector in north Bengal and Russia.

In an email to P.K. Saha, vice-chancellor of North Bengal University (NBU), the Russian Finance and Economic Institute (RFEI), Moscow, said the businessmen there were keen about India-Russia tie-ups in tea. They have also invited a delegation of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and NBU to explore the possibilities.

The development follows a recent visit by a team from the Russian government-affiliated RFEI to Siliguri — an initiative of NBU. It had then interacted with local industrialists and the CII’s north Bengal zonal council.

In the mail to Saha, which has been forwarded to CII’s north Bengal zonal council chairman Kamal Mittal, Bublik N.D., the coordinator of the Russian team, said the institute made a pilot analysis of the tea market back home and forecast a bright future for a tie-up.

“He has said their studies have found out that there are possibilities of increasing tea import from India three times,” Mittal said.

Russia has four tea factories where brew from the world over are blended and packaged. According to Bublik, RFEI is in the process of initiating a dialogue with the factory at Ufa on how the share of Indian tea can be increased in their dealings.

Bublik has urged NBU to prepare a report on India’s export scene. “The Russians are interested in direct trading with India,” said Saha.

At the same time, RFEI is concerned about the quality (it was because of this that Indians lost ground in Russia). It has asked NBU to study the quality aspect of export tea, especially that of the raw material used.

The Russians are also keen on diversification. “They are interested in innovations like iced tea, flavoured tea, canned tea and tea bags,” Saha said.

The vice-chancellor said he has forwarded the communiqué to the industry.

Welcoming the move, Mittal said: “It is just the beginning but definitely in the right direction. If our tea is able to regain the Russian market, the industry can hope for a turnaround.”

The RFEI said it has had discussions with Russian investors and has invited a delegation from India to Moscow for a direct interaction in April-May.

“I have been told that RFEI has also called up many tea planters directly,” Mittal said. “We have asked RFEI to send a formal invitation, following the protocol of international communications, so that we can process the formalities.”

Raipur Tea Estate workers protest with road block

Workers of Raipur Tea Estate and their families blocked SH 12A at Gosala More on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town for one-and-a-half hours today, demanding immediate reopening of the garden which shut down in July last year.

“We can no longer live in such conditions and want the government to take immediate steps,” said Sania Bhumij, the unit secretary of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union. “More than 120 people have died in our garden over the past one year and yet the welfare schemes are not being implemented properly.”

After the blockade, the workers turned their wrath on the block development officer of Jalpaiguri Sadar, Anupama Purakayastha, at her office. Trade union leaders had to rush to the spot to pacify them.

“We urged the administration to ensure that the schemes are implemented properly and that the garden is reopened soon,” said Chitta Dey, convener, Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers.

In Siliguri, veteran Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal today took out a protest march of tea labourers. “Given the present state of affairs, we apprehend a mass uprising in the gardens at any time,” Sanyal said.

Source: Telegraph

Alternative farming on closed tea estates

Alternative farming on the vacant land of closed estates in the Dooars may improve their condition, feels the Jalpaiguri district administration.

At a review meeting held at the district collectorate today to assess the progress of work in closed tea gardens, the officials decided to compile a list of non-workers at the estate and distribute Antodaya Annapurna Yojana cards among garden residents.

“The public health engineering department has been directed to install tubewells in every closed garden by March 31,” said B.L. Meena, the divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri, after the meeting. “We are sure to cover up to 80 per cent of the target of the 100-day work scheme by the end of the financial year. In some places, it may even be 100 per cent.”

In New Delhi, a five-member team of United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations, today met Jairam Ramesh (in picture), the Union minister of state for commerce and industries, and Basudeb Banerjee, the chairman of Tea Board of India.

“Both the chairman and the minister promised us that they would look into and decide on issues like fixing quality parameters, introducing prototype small-scale bought-leaf factories and forming the small growers’ development authority at the national level,” said Bijoygopal Chakrobarty, the convener of the association, over phone from Delhi.

Source: The Telegraph

Dalgoaon Tea Estate lockout

The management of Dalgaon Tea Estate declared a lockout last night, leaving more than 2,000 workers in the lurch.

Indiscipline, and not security, has been cited as the reason behind the closure of the estate, around 70 km from Jalpaiguri town. The immediate reason for the shutdown is a failed meeting between the management and union leaders yesterday.

The workers, who were unaware of the development, found the factory and the office locked this morning. The garden had shot into prominence on November 6, 2003, when angry workers raided the house of Citu strongman Tarakeswar Lohar and burnt to death 19 people in a chilling turn to a dispute over jobs.

Before leaving the garden — owned by RNT Plantations Private Limited — the management had issued a notice to the Falakata police station, stating that they were “suspending” operations.

Contacted over phone, co-mmercial manager B.L. Bothra said: “It is not that we are feeling insecure. The garden has been closed because of indisciplined workers. They come and go as they like. Recently, they demanded the removal of an assistant manager, Arun Sharma, who had ha-uled up a guard for sleeping on duty.”

The incident took place on March 6 and an “an angry Gangaram Ekka (the guard) retaliated by slapping the manager”, alleged Bothra.

“A day after the incident, we held a meeting at the Tea Association of India (TAI) office in Ethelbari (in Jalpaiguri district) where the workers demanded Sharma’s removal. Not only that, all the domestic help and chowkidars refused to attend to their duties at the bungalows,” Bothra said.

The commercial manager claimed that even after the mob attack more than three years ago, the garden had not been shut down. “Despite the fact that we have been running huge losses, the workers’ dues have not been kept pending,” said Bothra.

The union leaders, however, have a different tale. Mani Darnal, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “It was a drunk Sharma who had hit the chowkidar. We had requested the management to be sensitive towards workers who have a grisly past. We didn’t want more trouble.” He, however, admitted that there were no dues-related problems.

The secretary of the TAI’s Dooars branch, Ranjit Dutta, alleged that the lockout was the result of the workers’ adamant attitude. “The action tak-en is unfortunate, but yesterday’s meeting had fallen through,” Dutta said.

The subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, P.D. Pradhan, said a tripartite meeting has been called at the assistant labour commissioner’s office on Friday to settle the dispute.

Source: The Telegraph

Proposal to Goverment to acquire closed tea gardens

In a bid to reopen the closed tea estates in the Dooars, the Bengal labour department has forwarded a proposal to the central government to acquire all of them under the Indian Tea Act, 1953.

“We have sent a proposal to the Centre to take over the tea gardens in the Dooars belt which are lying closed for years,” said the principal secretary of the labour department, Subesh Das, at a news conference in Jalpaiguri today. “The central government can do so under the Tea Act.”

Das, who met the regional provident fund commissioner today, told reporters that at present, the total provident fund due in all the tea gardens of north Bengal stands at Rs 25 crore. “Officials of the provident fund department have been instructed to take steps and realise the dues,” the principal secretary added.

Representatives of trade unions and officials from the district administration also attended the meeting on the issue of provident fund. “It was decided that in the absence of the management (as in the closed estates), certificates of employment or death issued by any gazetted officers would be considered as proof enough to claim a worker’s provident fund,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers.

State health secretary Kalyan Bagchi, who was present at the news conference, said his department did not have any medical record of death by starvation at the closed tea estates.

Source: The Telegraph

Labour Department survey on closed tea gardens

Officials of the Bengal labour department are conducting a survey to collect details on workers and their families in the closed tea gardens of north Bengal.

The move precedes the visit of Subesh Das, principal secretary of the state labour department, who is scheduled to reach here tomorrow and go on a recce of the closed tea gardens of Jalpaiguri district.

“We have sent officials to survey the state of affairs in the closed tea estates. They have been instructed to collect data related to the workforce and their dependants, dues, and some other details,” said Md Nasim, the joint labour commissioner posted in Siliguri.

He said the accumulated data would then be submitted to higher officials of the department and, in due course, passed on to the chief minister.

“We are leaving no stones unturned. At least 50 tripartite meetings have been convened with the owners of the closed estates at different levels but to no avail,” said Nasin.

Das’s visit, a source said, follows the formation of an expert panel comprising the secretaries of five different departments, including labour.

In Jalpaiguri, the labour department succeeded in striking a deal today. The tripartite meeting called to reopen Rahimpur tea estate turned out to be successful and the management has agreed to restart operations from tomorrow.

Worker death
Another worker of the abandoned Bharnobari tea garden died on Sunday evening, reports our Jaigaon correspondent. With this, the death toll in the garden from the time of its closure in December 2005 has reached 76.

Cinela Oraon, 46, had been suffering from breathing problems and did not have the money to buy medicines.

Source: The Telegraph

IMO to check Darjeeling Tea

The Tea Board of India and the principals of the industry have agreed to appoint an independent agency to audit the production process of Darjeeling Tea as part of the accountability monitoring of the brand.

The Institute of Marketecology (IMO), India, will work with the lawyers of the board to uphold the trade chain integrity of Darjeeling Tea (that is, ensure that what is sold as Darjeeling Tea is indeed produced from tealeaves plucked from the 87 registered gardens in Darjeeling).

The IMO is a Switzerland-based international agency, which has an office in India. It has been involved with the tea estates in Darjeeling in its capacity as the issuing authority of organic certificates. Now, said board chairman Basudeb Banerjee, the IMO would also check the production chain of Darjeeling Tea.

“We are hopeful that the IMO will cover all the registered gardens of brand Darjeeling in three years,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association.

The decision was taken and announced at a meeting chaired by Banerjee and attended by industry principals and the Darjeeling district administration in Calcutta today.

The move will compliment the online trade chain integrity system developed by DSS Software P (Ltd) on behalf of the board. The system demands that all the 87 gardens send daily factory and field reports to the board and the IMO is expected to monitor any anomalies detected in the production chain with the help of the software.

The board today also spelt out the ramifications of the Geographic Indicator (GI) Act and the penalty for violators. “We discussed both the civil and criminal remedies of GI violation,” said Mukherjee. Defaulters could be prosecuted with seven years’ imprisonment or a fine of Rs 2 lakh or both, he added.

Source: The Telegraph

Plan for better tea factory and tea quality

Tea Research Association (TRA), an ancillary body of Tea Board of India, has chalked out plans to further develop its Nagracata substation, which will extend better services to stakeholders in the region.

“At a recent meeting of the TRA, it has been decided to build a model tea manufacturing unit at Nagracata, obviously of low output, like the one we have at our headquarters in Assam,” said Pradip Ghosh, the chief advisory officer of TRA, Nagracata, today. “The proposal has been sent to the department of industries and commerce for approval under the 11th Five Year Plan.”

According to Ghosh, both researchers and planters will benefit from the model factory. “Researchers can work on different segments associated with tea manufacturing, which was not possible so far, since the sub-station did not have a factory,” the chief advisory officer said. “Planters can identify problems usually faced during manufacture, which researchers can try to solve.”

In a bid to better the quality aspect, which of late, has become the prime concern of manufacturers in north Bengal, the TRA plans to work jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Research Centre — also operated by the tea board — on a number of research projects.

At present, the TRA has four laboratories at Nagracata here and seven scientists are posted there.

The TRA has also set up a 300-seat auditorium-cum-training centre, where training programmes will be held.

The decisions have been appreciated by the industry. “The sub-station upgrade has been a longstanding demand. It’s good that it has finally been taken up,” said Bijoygopal Chakrobarty, convener, United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Association.

Source: The Telegraph

Oil Fired engine for Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Fired up by the British, the Indian Railways is hoping to get third time lucky in its attempts to get the steam-run Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) oil-fired.

After two failed attempts with Himanand and Himrati — oil-fired engines developed at Golden Rock Workshop in Tiruchirapalli — the railways is now trying out the locomotive 1001 B, developed in consultation with Ffestiniog Railway, the 175-year-old narrow-gauge railway in the UK.

Engine 1001 B is now at the DHR loco shed at Siliguri Junction. M. Vishwanathan, a junior engineer from Golden Rock, arrived here today to oversee the experiments being carried out at the shed. Cederic Lodge, a trained engineer with Ffestiniog Railways, who reportedly helped the workshop with the designs, also paid a visit. “So far so good,” he said. “There are some problems, like the one with the safety valve, but they can be fixed.”

Lodge has volunteered to act as an consultant to the Indian Railways free of cost. “I prepared detailed designs of oil-fired engines for the DHR and gave them to the Golden Rock engineers. I have also prepared a detailed manual on how to operate an oil-fired engine for the drivers,” he said.

Mehtab Singh, divisional railway manager of Katihar, Northeast Frontier Railway, has welcomed Lodge’s offer.

The railways plans to introduce oil-fed steam locomotives on the Kurseong-Darjeeling-Kurseong route, the joyride between Darjeeling and Ghoom and all chartered rides.

The oil-fired engines have the same look and “feel” of the age-old coal-fed steam locomotives. However, they will cause less environmental pollution — diesel being more eco-friendly than coal — and also bring down running costs.

Source: The Telegraph

CM doesn't know about Starvation deaths

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today denied any knowledge of starvation deaths in closed tea gardens in north Bengal.

“We’re aware that there may be problems due to malnutrition and lack of sufficient food for workers in 13 closed gardens of north Bengal. We know that they’re going though a difficult time, but the state government has no knowledge of any starvation deaths in these estates,” said Bhattacharjee.

According to the chief minister, he has met twice the district officials there — once in December last year and in January — and has ordered the formation of a task force to monitor the estates. “I’ve directed the task force members, including the secretaries of health, labour, planning and development and rural development departments to visit these gardens without delay and submit a report to me,” the chief minister said.

M.N. Roy, the secretary of the rural development and panchayat affairs department, visited some of the estates today to take a stock of the situation. Accompanied by B.L. Meena, the divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri, and other administrative officials, Roy visited the Raipur, Sikarpur and Bhandapur, Kanthalguri and Ramjhora estates.

“He is here to find out to what extent the developmental schemes for workers have been implemented,” said Banamali Roy, the sabhadhipati of the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad.

The workers complained to Roy about the low-scale activities under programmes, like 100-day work and mid-day meal schemes.

Source: The Telegraph

Health benefits of Tea

Darjeeling/Siliguri: A cuppa a day keeps the doctor away.

At least that is what National Tea Research Foundation (NTRF) seems to believe. And to further substantiate that tea is a health drink that may even help reduce the risk of diseases like cancer, the NTRF has outsourced various projects to a number of leading institutes in the country.

“The ingredients of tea include polyphenols, like thearubigins and theaflavins, that may have antioxidant characteristics with potential health benefits. So it is imperative to conduct research and ascertain whether these can help in recuperating from diseases like cancer,” Monojit Dasgupta, secretary general of the Indian Tea Association, said here today.

Dasgupta, who was here to attend the 30th annual general meeting of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee, said: “The NTRF has assigned several eminent institutes throughout the country to work on this subject.” The list includes the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research & Education in Cancer, Mumbai, the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow, the department of environmental carcinogenesis of Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Calcutta, the department of physiology and zoology, S.N. Pradhan Centre for Neurosciences, and Dr B.C. Guha Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology.

Tea Board officials who were present in today’s meeting also confirmed that the NTRF was trying to ascertain the role of tea and its potential health benefits through a number of ongoing research projects. These include:

As a chemo-preventive agent on carcinogen

As an anti-oxidant for treatment of prostrate cancer

As an antidote to cancer resulting from smoking

As a preventive to lung cancer

The NTRF has also assigned institutes to work on other health issues like assessment of anti-stress and anti-ageing mechanisms of black tea, the effects of Black Assam and Black China tea on oral pathology, and the effect of tea extracts on tumour cells, sources said.

“Such research would definitely help increase domestic tea consumption once the results come to us. A campaign highlighting the results and advocating the benefits of drinking tea would then be started,” said H.N. Dwivedi, controller of licensing, Tea Board.

About promotion, Rupali Dutta, the deputy director (tea promotion) of the board, said advertisements on “iced tea” would be brought out just before summer. “These ads will target the youth,” Dutta said. “To boost our exports, we are exploring new markets and have decided to participate in 19 international events in different countries during the next financial year.”

At the annual general meeting, issues like instant auction sale, introduction of electronic auction system and ex-estate sale were discussed. “As both the buyers and sellers are interested in instant auction sale, we are thinking of introducing the system in Siliguri in another month,” Dwivedi said.

“For the electronic auction system, we have already shortlisted vendors who would supply equipment and software to us. The final selection will be done by mid-April, and e-auctions will commence by the end of that month,” he added.

Source: The Telegraph

Protest against sealing of Sepoydhura Tea Estate

Darjeeling: The GNLF has decided to set up a series of roadblockades on NH 55 from March 15 onwards to protest against the sealing of the Sepoydhura tea estate by liquidators appointed by Calcutta High Court.

The sealing has come as a major blow to the 285 workers of the estate, who have been rendered jobless before the first flush.

B. Dasgupta, the subdivisional officer of Kurseong, who had earlier taken the initiative to appoint a receiver for the garden, 60 km from here, admitted that it has been sealed.

It was learnt that the high court appointed a liquidator after a nationalised bank and a private party moved court to recover certain dues from R. Vyas, the owner. The court move is seen as a step towards selling off the garden for the recovery of outstanding dues on behalf of the people concerned.

However, it has peeved the workers of the estate. “What will they do now? The workers are on the verge of starvation. Many families are sick and with the academic session slated to start soon, parents don’t have money to send their children to school or to buy books,” claimed I.N. Pradhan, president, GNLF Kurseong Branch Committee.

“Under the circumstance, we have no alternative but to go on hunger strike and set up road blockades (on the Siliguri-Darjeeling stretch) from March 15,” said Pradhan.

Sources said Vyaas was running the garden till it was shut down three years ago. The receiver had then appointed a Calcutta-based agency, M/s Marco Polo, two years ago to lift the green leaves from the garden.

“When fresh tenders were floated after the expiry of the contract with Marco Polo recently, Calcutta High Court issued an order to stall the process. On March 2, the receiver handed over the garden to the liquidator,” said Pradhan.

However, administrative officials hinted that the government could move court on behalf of the workers.

Pradhan today appealed Subash Ghisingh, the DGHC administrator, to take necessary action.

The workers, in their turn, have requested governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi to bail them out of the crisis. “He had been to Ramjhora when he was in Darjeeling. We want him to visit our garden and take stock of the situation here,” said Biroj Pradhan, the secretary of the GNLF’s Sephoydhura union.

Source: The Telegraph

One more death at Ramjhora Tea Estate

COOCH BEHAR: One more person died at Ramjhora Tea Estate in the Dooars today, taking the death toll to 176 since the garden was closed in August 2002.

Sankar Gosain (14), a resident of Top Line area of Ramjhora Tea Estate, died this afternoon. He was suffering from anaemia, sources said.

It may be recalled that governor Mr Gopal Krishna Gandhi had visited the tea estate recently to see for himself the condition of the beleaguered labourers. Two persons had died on the day the governor visited the tea estate.

Several trade unions have been demanding reopening of the tea estate for a long time, but to no avail. Alipurduar MLA and secretary of UTUC’s Jalpaiguri district unit Mr Nirmal Das has condoled the death of Gosain today. He said that the Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishad should take measures to stop frequent deaths in the tea estate. “They should set up a camp in the tea estate. The healthcare facilities should be introduced there. Mere visit of the governor is not enough for the well-being of the residents of the tea estate. The state government should prove that they are too interested for the welfare of the workers. Though the chief minister had promised that they would take necessary step to stop starvation deaths in the tea estate, nothing has been done yet. The Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishad is also sitting silent,” Mr Das, alleged.

Meanwhile, leaders of RSP, United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and Dooars Cha-Bagan Workers’ Union (DCBWU) have decided to postpone their proposed roadblock programme from 13 February in places like Birpara and Hasimara.

The roadblock was planned to press for the reopening of the closed and abandoned tea estates of the Dooars. However, after the visit of the governor, the proponents of the programme decided to review their agitation plan.

General secretary of DCBWU and also the Jalpaiguri district RSP secretary, Mr Rana Sen, said they would start a fresh movement if the authorities failed to take initiative for the reopening of the closed tea estates in the region.

Source: The Statesman

Plastic Ban move by Darjeeling Citizens

As the pipers of Darjeeling Police Band marched down the streets today, residents joined in to express solidarity with the no-plastic campaign.

Citizens walked hand-in-hand with schoolchildren, district and municipality officials and politicians to send a message that they were ready to follow the ban on plastic use and the prohibition was not being forced upon them. The placard, “We are not afraid of the ban, we are afraid only of plastics”, seemed to say it all.

“Let us not only talk about it, but get down to making Darjeeling clean and green. Let us take a vow to get rid of plastics from town,” said Rajesh Subarna, superintendent of police, Darjeeling. The plastic ban will come into effect from Thursday (March 8), said B.M. Limboo, vice-chairman, Darjeeling Municipality. According to the order, anyone found littering or using plastic bags would be fined Rs 100.

Led by the Darjeeling Police Band, the procession, which started from Chowrastha, wound down Nehru Road and Ladenla Road before reaching Chowkbazar, the business centre of the town. From there, the rallyists returned to Chowrastha, via H.D. Lama Road.

The plastic ban campaign, which has been taken up periodically in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, finally seems to have taken off for good as even politicians are in favour of the prohibition. The presence of Pranay Rai, the GNLF MLA from Darjeeling, was significant as earlier campaigns here had reportedly been derailed by political interference to an extent.

However, today, speeches delivered by Rai and Limboo sent the message that they have realised the hazard of the use of plastic. “Let us be united for our future and lend a hand for a better tomorrow,” said Rai.

Source: The Telegraph

Nodal Officers for closed tea gardens

The Jalpaiguri district administration has decided to appoint one nodal officer for every three closed tea garden in the Dooars.

To be of the rank of deputy magistrate, the officials will be responsible for monitoring development schemes, distribution of relief and extension of medical facilities on regular basis at these estates.

The announcement came 24 hours after Anuradha Talwar, the adviser from Bengal to the food commissioner of the Supreme Court, alleged that the government did not have the machinery to keep tabs on abandoned estates and depended on unreliable sources for information.

Announcing the decision in Jalpaiguri today, Talwar, who is on a three-day recce of the closed estates, said: “I have discussed the situation with the additional district magistrates and the zilla parishad sabhadhipati. They have said deputy magistrates will be appointed in the closed gardens.”

Talwar has suggested a number of remedial measures, some of which are:

Open community kitchen in every closed estate

Provide constant and free medical aid

Keep complaint books at the block and panchayat offices so that workers can voice their grievances

“The basic problem is that though several schemes and proposals are finalised at the district and state level, a fraction of these actually filter down,” Talwar said.

The apex court representative visited Ramjhora today and is scheduled to attend a meeting with workers of closed estates at Birpara, 100 km from here, tomorrow.

Banamali Roy, the sabhadhipati of Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishad, admitted that there had been some “initial hiccups while implementing the 100 days-work scheme” in the closed estates.

RSP demand

Members of Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union — affiliated to the RSP’s trade union wing — have demanded that the closed tea gardens be handed over to West Bengal Tea Development Corporation.

“The development body is successfully running three gardens — Hila, Sonali and Mohua. We want them to take over the closed gardens in the Dooars and run them using funds from Tea Board of India. Today I am leaving for Calcutta to take it up with the chief minister,” said Suresh Talukdar, the president of the tea workers’ union.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Workers paid their dues

More than 4,000 workers from three closed tea gardens in the Dooars were paid their dues today under the 100-days employment guarantee scheme.

Kalchini gram panchayat pradhan Prem Kumar Lama handed out nearly Rs 20 lakh to 4,112 workers of Raimatang, Chinchula and Kalchini estates. “We are paying them wages for seven days of work from February 15,” said Lama. “Each of them received Rs 476.”

Kalchini and Raimatang have been shut since February 2006 while Chinchula closed down in November 2005.

Unit president of National Union of Plantation Workers at Chinchula Anjukush Minj said: “We have been sanctioned 14 days’ work for renovating the garden’s drainage system and pruning the tea bushes. But we need another 50 days to complete maintenance activities.”

Garden work has been included in the 100-days employment scheme at the insistence of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Source: The Telegraph

Orthodox tea instead of CTC

Planters are keen on producing orthodox tea even in the plains, but feel that the government support is just not enough.

“While there is a huge demand (domestic and global) for orthodox tea, there is a glut in the market for CTC tea which the gardens in the plains mostly grow,” said S.K. Saria, the chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee and a planter himself. Saria said this at a news meet called to announce that the 30th annual general meeting (AGM) of the tea auction centre here will be held on March 7 and 8.

Asked about the subsidy announced by the government, a few years ago, to encourage growers to produce orthodox tea, Saria said the government help is not enough.

“The gardens in the Dooars phased out orthodox tea to grow the CTC variety in the 70s,” Saria said. “Now they are all completely into CTC with all their equipment sold out. These gardens will have to go for a total reorganisation of their set-up if they wish to switch back to orthodox tea production now, and this would require a lot of investment. Given the ongoing crisis in the market, it is not possible for them to do that at the moment. The government provides only Rs 3 per kg as subsidy. This should be increased to at least Rs 7-8 per kg to start with. Once the process is initiated, the planters will fend for themselves.”

A tea-tasting session, prizes for the best performers among the sellers, buyers and brokers and a seminar on the topic — Promotion of the auction system — would be the primary events at the AGM. Evolution of the auction system, relevance of tea brokers, marketing of tea in value-added form, electronic auction system and orbit-shifting innovation are some of the topics that are expected to be discussed at the seminar.

Basudeb Banerjee, the chairman of Tea Board of India, will be the chief guest at the programme.

Source: The Telegraph

Two more deaths at Bharnobari Tea Estate

Bharnobari Tea Estate (Alipurduar): Even as some funds trickled into Raimatang, Chinchula and Kalchini tea estates, the condition of the locked-out Bharnobari continues to be as bleak as ever.

Two persons have died at the Bharnobari estate over the past 24 hours, taking the toll to 72 since its closure in December 2005.

Laxman Munda (48) of Bharnobari out-division died yesterday, while Binu Kharia (32), a resident of Jonathan line, died this morning. According to medical reports, both were suffering from malnutrition. Binu used to stay all by himself as his wife, Jayanti, works in Delhi and their son stays with a relative.

With the 2,250 labourers not getting paid for more than a year, the families can hardly hope to have one square meal a day, let alone treatment for ailments. Six residents here, including three children were admitted to the Latabari health centre yesterday suffering from malnutrition.

Just to make ends meet, a few labourers have been forced to take up jobs in dolomite quarries in Bhutan, while some others have left for other parts of the country for work.

Tapan Nag, the secretary of Swadhikar, an NGO, said: “Under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, workers of closed gardens are supposed to get 100 days’ work, but labourers here got work for 26 days only and received wages for 21 days.”

According to Nag, Antyodaya cards have not been distributed among labourers as a result of which everyone is not getting equal amount of foodgrain. P.D. Pradhan, the subdivisional officer, however, said: “Though the cards have not been distributed, the workers have been receiving ration regularly.”

A team of Krishi Jami Raksha Committee from Calcutta visited the garden today as part of their survey of closed estates in the Dooars.

Source: The Telegraph