Family run tea garden sets example

A family-run tea estate in the Dooars has set an example to others in the region. It does not have any union, nor do the workers want it.

The Gopimohan tea garden is locally known as the “garden of five brothers” where all the five siblings run the show. All of them are directors of Jahury-Durga Tea Company Private Limited and hold the posts of office clerk, store clerk, head clerk, assistant manager and manager as well.

According to the youngest of the brothers, Pranablal Mukherjee, when their father, Jahurylal Mukherjee, passed away in 1971, he and his six brothers took over the reins of the garden. Two of his elder brothers have died since then.

One of the 30 permanent workers of the 45-hectare garden, Thuli Kami, said the owners treated them like their own family members. “We have no need for unions in the garden as we get all our dues on time,” she said.

Till a month ago, the estate had been selling plucked tealeaves to neighbouring gardens with factories. “But recently we installed a CTC plant spending Rs 3 lakh. We have a good relation ship with traders in Bhutan and have a ready market here for our manufactured tea,” Mukherjee said.

“Our father was one of the first Bengali planters in the Dooars to set up a garden in 1939 and we are proud to carry on his legacy,” said Alokelal Mukherjee, another brother.

Source: The Telegraph

Bad roads and a broken bridge affect tea distribution

Over 50 lakh kg of tea ready for distribution is stuck at warehouses in Siliguri after bad roads in Bihar and the broken Bailey bridge in Raiganj disrupted traffic in the region.

S.K. Saria, chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (Stac), said the situation is likely to have a spiralling effect, ultimately hitting the planters and workers at a time when the industry is trying to cope with the twin effects of low production and price.

“About 50 lakh kg tea auctioned off in the past three weekly sales (Sales 33, 34 and 35) is lying idle in the warehouses,” Saria said. “This means about Rs 40 crore is stuck up at a single point of the supply chain.”

Following requests from buyers to defer tomorrow’s auction at Siliguri Tea Auction Centre, the Stac sales advisory committee held a meeting today. “However, we decided not to let the auction be affected for it will hit the sellers hard,” Saria said. “For the sake of the buyers, the seller members have agreed to increase the ‘prompt’ by two days.”

Prompt in industry terminology stands for the number of days by which the buyers are supposed to pay for the stocks bought at the auction. According to Stac rules, a “prompt” of 13 working days is granted to a buyer for each sale. “The buyers will now get a respite of two days each for the last three sales as well as tomorrow’s sale.”

Saria said Stac has also decided to submit a memorandum to the government on the situation.

Shankar Agarwal, general secretary of Siliguri Road Transporters’ Association, said tea movement has almost come to a standstill. “Since the last one month, the Bihar floods and bad roads resulting out of it have caused a near total halt of movement of trucks to and from north India through Bihar (mainly the seven-eight km stretch in Naugachia),” he said.

“On an average, 100 truckloads of tea move out of Siliguri daily, but now because of the road disruption not a single vehicle is being dispatched,” Agarwal said.

S.K. Bhattacharya, the secretary of Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association, said the buyers were at a loss. “If the primary buyers are unable to deliver tea to up-country buyers, they will not receive payments. On the other hand, they will have to make the necessary payments to the sellers within the prompt period. However, the relaxation in prompt has brought some relief.”

Source: The Telegraph

Tea workers protest against car park

Kurseong : Workers of the Singel Tea Estate in Kurseong have launched an agitation opposing the Kurseong Municipality's proposal to acquire land of the tea estate to accommodate a car park.

The workers are resolute that they would not relinquish land of the plantation. The workers submitted a deputation to the district administration stating that the plantation, which at one point of time produced over a lakh Kg tea produces half the quantity now. According to them, the cause for the drop in tea production is loss of the plantation's land for several causes. The Rinchington hydel project, which was constructed in 1970, took 124 acres of the plantation's land. The plantation again lost 7 hectare land between 1990 and 2000 to accommodate the INA Bus Terminus and the Kurseong Fire Station. Thousands of tea bushes were destroyed and further land was taken for the construction of roads thereafter, the workers alleged. "Under the circumstances, the workers and the management would not relinquish further land in the interest of the plantation," the agitators, said. The Kurseong Municipality chairman, Mr PC Agarwal, said that the proposal for resumption of land to create a parking lot was the government's idea. "We have nothing to say in this matter."Mr Agarwal further stated that the Singel management should attend the meetings convened in this regard. "If the Singel management really wants to negotiate the matter, they should have attended the meeting convened by the Darjeeling DM,” he added.

Source: The Statesman

Intuc threatens stir over tea issue

The Congress and its affiliate, the Intuc, have decided to launch an intensive movement against the Center and state if no steps are taken after the deadline for opening closed gardens ends on August 31.

The Union ministry for commerce and industry had specifically declared that owners of closed gardens should avail of the financial package and reopen their gardens by August 31 or else the estates would be acquired by invoking sections 16(D) and (E) of the Tea Act, 1953.

“We will wait for one week after the deadline before resorting to demonstrations, blockades and rallies,” said Aloke Chakravorty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc.

The decision follows the announcement made by the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers — an apex body of tea trade unions — to start a movement in October to demand workers’ benefits like housing, health and drinking water.

Source: The Telegraph

Printer affected by Dooars tea gardens

The gasping tea sector has hit the printing industry hard.

Since 2001, most printing presses in the Dooars have stopped getting orders from the gardens, which earlier used to print their annual reports and brochures from them.

More than 13 estates are closed and many that are open are either sick or on the brink of closing.

There are 45 printing presses with 250 employees and more than 1,500 direct dependants.

The owner of Popular Printing Press, Barun Kumar Mitra, alleged that most garden owners are now getting their work done from offset printing presses in Calcutta.

“As a result, we cannot afford to keep our presses open. I had four employees till 2002 and used to pay them Puja bonus. Now there is only one left,” Mitra said.

He added that in the Dooars area there are 45 letter presses and all of them are very old. “These establishments used to bag 50 per cent of the printing orders from the gardens but now they get less than five per cent,” Mitra said.

Along with outdated technology, the problem of the closed tea gardens has also contributed to the losses of the printing press owners.

“We have heard about the fresh injection of funds into the tea industry and that is the only reason why I am still in this profession,” said Ratan Das, an employee of a letter press.

But the technically backward letter presses are not the only victims.

Apash Dey, the owner of Dey Printing Press in Hasimara, said he had been connected with the business for a decade. He had taken a bank loan of Rs 5 lakh in 2000 to set up an offset printing press.

“Orders have fallen drastically though I tried to keep pace with the technological advancement,” Dey said.

Krishnapada Basubal, a member of Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Bengal (Focin), said most businesses were affected due to the condition of the tea industry.

Source: The Telegraph

Minister intervention plea in felling shade trees

Tea planters in the Dooars and Terai have sought the forest minister’s intervention in felling shade trees.

No shade tree can be cut without the permission of the respective panchayat within which the garden is located. However, since the process involved is lengthy, planters feel the utilisation of Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) — under which old bushes will be uprooted and new saplings of shade trees planted — will receive a setback.

The applications for felling are made to panchayats first, which in turn recommend them to the district level tea committee, which takes the final decision and intimates the applicant garden.

“In many cases, it takes about a year,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “We want the process to be simplified and have invited forest minister Ananta Roy to a meeting. He is yet to respond.”

Some planters alleged that permissions were often determined by how felled trees were utilised. “When it is a commercial felling, that is, the timber is sold through the forest department, the permission comes early,” a garden owner said. However, when the timber is consumed within the garden as firewood, the permission takes a year to come, he alleged.

Foresters, however, blamed incomplete applications and absence of necessary documents as the cause for delay.

M.R. Baluch, the conservator of forests (northern circle), hinted that a new arrangement would be operational soon. “The range officer will grant permission for felling shade trees. But the entire sales proceeds will have to be used for workers’ welfare.”

Source: The Telegraph

Mamta in for the tea industry

The Trinamul Congress has decided to gain a toehold in the tea industry by taking up the distressed workers’ cause. And so, it would take the movement of the tea workers to the streets of Delhi.

According to the party’s Darjeeling district president Mr Gautam Deb today, the Trinamul Congress would be staging a hunger rally in Delhi with workers of closed and abandoned tea estates some time after the pujas to highlight the plight of the workers and their dependents.
He added that to keep the momentum of the movement on Miss Mamata Banerjee would visit the Dooars of north Bengal from 30 August to 1 September.

On 30 August she would address a mass meeting at the Mal Colony Maidan. On 31 August she would visit the closed Bharnobari and Kathalguri tea estates in the Dooars.

On 1 September she would attend a mass meeting at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district to involve more people in the movement to save the tea plantations and its workers. The Trinamul has made arrangements to make Miss Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the Dooars a success.

Source: The Telegraph

The union and management of a garden here have come together for a common cause.

The Darjeeling district administration’s move to set up a new motor stand at Happy Valley tea estate has been opposed both by the workers and the owners of the garden.

The stand would mean a reduction in plantation size, which the new owners of the garden and the trade unions feel cannot be afforded at a time when the estate is fighting for survival.

“We cleared around Rs 60 lakh in dues after we took over the garden. The factory needs renovation for which we have to invest almost a crore. If we lose plantation land at this point of time, no one can save the estate,” said Anil Bansal, the general manager of Hrithik Investment Pvt. Ltd, which took over the estate on March 29, 2007. The estate was under a workers’ committee from 2002- 2007.

The garden has an area of 162 hectares of which 124 hectares is plantation land. The motor stand is expected to take up 5-6 hectares.

Even the unions are up in arms against the move. “If the situation so requires, the entire workforce will take leave for two to three days to stop the construction of the motor stand,” said S.K. Gurung, the president of the GNLF-affiliated Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union (garden unit).

The workers maintain that their fortune has only just started looking up — for five years they did not get their statutory benefits (something that is not possible under a workers’ committee) — and a reduction in plantation size could put a damper on the revival spree. “We have already lost 20-25 acres to landslides and this is one of the smallest gardens in the hills. Further loss could have serious implications for the 1,500 people residing in the estate,” said Pravin Gurung, the secretary of the union.

The management believes any construction — likely to take place at an altitude at par with the road and higher than the rest of the garden — would destroy a large area, as the soil will have to be thrown downhill into the estate.

“Last year, we produced about 60,000kg of made tea but this year because of the unpredictable weather, we have been able to produce only 18,000 kg of made tea so far. At the most, the figure will rise to 35,000kg at the end of the year,” said Sudan Gurung, the manager of the garden.

The garden, which employs 335 workers, has one of the highest land-labour ratio. As against the desired 1:1 (for every acre one worker), the current ratio stands at 1:3. Reduction in plantation size might cause an imbalance in the ratio further.

Darjeeling district magistrate Rajesh Pandey had earlier told The Telegraph that nothing had been finalised about Happy Valley other than a survey. Though the municipal engineering department had been told to prepare a proposal for the government, Pandey had hinted that other plots might also be considered.

Source: The Telegraph

Power supply for North Bengal tea gardens

Bengal power and labour minister Mrinal Banerjee today said his department would prioritise the work of giving domestic connection to workers in the tea gardens of north Bengal.

Banerjee, who met officials of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, planters and trade union representatives here today, said his department would review the progress every month.

“The garden managements have been asked to collect applications from the workers after consulting the trade unions. The power company has also been instructed to give connection to every household soon,” he said after the meeting.

Earlier, bulk power was given to the management which in turn distributed it to workers’ quarters. Now each labourer will get connection for Rs 206. The total cost for electrification is Rs 621 per household. The management will bear the rest. Domestic power connections to workers’ have been given to only seven tea gardens in the region out of 300-odd estates.

Source: The Telegraph

Makaibari to get a library as a parting gift

Denna Weiss and Mike Matergia had come to Makaibari Tea Estate with a purpose.

While Denna was here to teach the children of the estate, Mike came for a health project. Both of them had come down from Pennsylvania, USA.

Four months later, however, the duo have decided to build a library in the area as a parting gift to the people they had befriended.

“During our stay here we found that there is need for a good library. It will benefit students and general people alike,” Mike told The Telegraph today.

The duo are working round the clock to ensure the success of their brainchild.

“We mailed our friends and parents back home informing them about the library here. Our parents were really interested and our friends also decided to contribute. Till date we have already collected a good number of books and around US $ 3,000 for the library,” Denna said.

The Makaibari tea estate authorities have donated already a 29ft by 20ft plot and a two-storied building is under construction there. While the ground floor will have a crèche to be built by the estate authorities, the first floor will house the library.

Denna said the library would have all types of books necessary for students. The construction of the library is also being funded by them.

“The single-room library will contain around 850 books out of which 40, on various subjects like health, meditation and yoga, will be in local languages. There will be English books of all types for school and college students. Besides, a computer with internet connection and a DVD player will also be installed,” Denna said.

Mike said they would be here till September and hoped to finish the project by then.

Rajah Banerjee, the proprietor of the estate, has expressed happiness over the initiative.

“As soon as we heard of the project from them we immediately donated the land and some funds. The library will be an asset for the residents here,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph

Women on Tea garden vigil

Women workers in the Bhagatpur tea estate have formed a vigilante team to prevent theft from the garden and its factory as the strike called by the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Majdoor Union (CBMU) entered the fourth day today.

“Workers of closed gardens are often blamed by the management for pilfering metal scrap and tea leaves, but we are determined not to be included in the same bracket. We will protect the garden and at the same time carry on with our movement against the management to recover our dues,” said Sushila Ekka, the assistant secretary of the CBMU’s garden unit.

Sushila said in closed gardens criminals often steal saplings, fell shade trees for profit and loot made-tea from the factories. “We have formed a team of 150 women and they are keeping a 24-hour vigil in small groups,” Sushila said. The garden was the source of daily bread for the workers and none of them want it to be ruined by criminals, she added.

Ashu Sarkar, the central committee member of the CBMU and member of the Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishad, today said if the management did not sit for talks, the movement would be intensified soon. “We will not withdraw the strike and not allow the management to enter the garden as well,” Sarkar said.

The secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association, Prabir Bhattacharya, said he was yet to hear from the garden management. “It will be better if the strike is withdrawn and talks between the management and the union start.”

Source: The Telegraph

Final chance to closed tea garden owners

The Centre will give a final chance to owners of closed tea estates before acquiring their gardens under the Tea Act.

The Tea Board of India today said a one-to-one meeting would be held with each of the planters, along with their respective bankers, on the first week of September in Calcutta.

“The purpose is to get a final feedback from their side before acquiring the gardens,” G. Boriah, the director (tea development), tea board, told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta. “The meeting will be on September 5 and we will want to know from the owners if they have found a way out to open their estates. The response would be forwarded to the Union government for further action.”

Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, had at the end of July announced that planters would have to either open their gardens within August 31 or hand them over to the Centre, which will in turn search for new investors.

Boriah said a committee headed by O.P. Arya, the additional secretary (plantations) of the Union commerce and industries ministry, has been formed to work on the issue. The other members who will be in the panel include Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the tea board, secretaries of finance, labour and commerce and industry from the state, and bankers. “The Union government will issue a notification announcing the formation of the committee soon,” Boriah said.

About the roadmap that the committee is likely to follow in acquiring the gardens, the tea board official said: “In case it is found that all or some of the owners have failed to come up with anything positive, the panel will issue advertisements seeking expression of interest from prospective entrepreneurs.”

Source: The Telegraph

Major Ration crisis for tea gardens

Tea planters in the foothills of Bengal have hinted at a major crisis in disbursement of food grain in the next few months, considering the consistent shortfall in government allotment since January this year.

“The distribution of ration in the brew belt might face a sudden jolt as managements in the Terai and Dooars are being forced to purchase rice and wheat from the open market,” said Shashank Prasad, the president of the Tea Association of India.

According to Prasad, considering the state of the industry, the situation can worsen if the gardens fail to buy foodgrain from the open market. “We want the governments to intervene,” he added.

Under the wage agreement of 1969, a tea worker is entitled to 1kg of rice and 2.26kg of wheat every week. An adult dependant of the worker is supposed to get 1kg of rice and 1.44kg of wheat while a minor 500gm of rice and 720gm of wheat.

In 2005, the FCI used to allot 5,890 quintals of rice and 35,340 quintals of wheat per month to the gardens of the Dooars and the Terai. The figures changed to 34,830 quintals and 14,930 quintals in 2006.

“In June last year, though the allotment of rice remained the same, only 7,460 quintals of wheat were allotted,” a source said. In January 2007, when the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) was launched, the allotment became 22,399 quintals against a requirement of 18,854 quintals of rice and 11,015 quintals of wheat (which makes the total 29,869 quintals) each month.

“Now each month, we have to purchase about 7,500 quintals of foodgrain from the open market, where we pay Rs 1,125 for every quintal of rice and Rs 1,200 per quintal of wheat,” a planter said. “If this continues for a year, we will be spending around Rs 10 crore for around 90,000 quintals.”

Tea estates were brought under the purview of the TPDS scheme this year wherein workers and their families were issued ration cards with managers acting as ration dealers.

“When the FCI was in charge, the shortages were sporadic, but ever since the TPDS was introduced, the shortage has become constant,” said N.K. Basu, the convener of the West Bengal branch of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations. “We want the government to do something.”

Bengal food minister Paresh Adhikary, however, said the state government has little to do with the allotment. “The Centre allots the foodgrain,” he said. “Our role is limited to routing it to the industry. We have always told the planters to write to the Union government. Nevertheless, we will take up the issue with Union food minister Sharad Pawar.”

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Managers forced to leave tea garden

Two members of the management at Dalsinghpara Tea Estate were forced by workers to leave the garden after they failed to pay up their monthly dues.

Garden manager Jagannath Mahato and factory-in-charge Govind Purohit came to their office around 8am and were immediately confronted by workers. Supporters of unions affiliated to the UTUC, the Intuc and the Citu jointly demanded this month’s wages, revision of pay scale and arrears.

The duo admitted that they did not have the funds to pay the dues and pleaded helplessness in not being able to get in touch with company officials in Calcutta.

According to Sankar Ghosh of the UTUC-affiliated North Bengal Cha Bagan Employees Union, the two men were told to march to the bus stand 500m away where there were phone booths. They were accompanied by over 300 garden workers.

“Once there, they called up the office of Octavius Tea and Industries Ltd, which owns the garden. After the call they said the management would not be able to send funds before next week,” Ghosh said.

The leaders present then decided that they would not allow the two officials to return to the garden and reportedly forced the duo on to a bus and asked them to leave.

“We had no options but to ask them to leave as the company has been failing to pay up the wages and the arrears after repeated promises,” Ghosh said. “Earlier the wages were paid regularly on the fourth of each month. This month we allowed them time till the tenth. When they did not pay us our dues even on August 14 we stopped the despatch of tea from the factory.”

The president of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, Kalatush Kullu, said the company owed the workers nearly Rs 4 crore in provident fund and gratuity dues, wage arrears, ration and medical bills.

Police said the two managers had gone to the Jaigaon police station to register a complaint.

“We tried to tell the unions today that about 25,000 kg of tea was awaiting despatch and this payment would be made by August 22. But they are not willing to listen to us and instead we were insulted. The plucked leaf is lying unweighed since 7am today. There are no security arrangements in the garden,” Mahato said.

Till late in the evening the two managers were still at the police station.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Tax Waiver a relief

Darjeeling : The Bengal government has waived agriculture income tax across the state for the next three years. The decision is expected to bring relief to the tea industry, which has been reeling from losses for more than a decade.

A notification issued by the government on July 5 — a copy of which is with The Telegraph — has also spelt out a special scheme to settle the amount of unpaid agricultural income tax and the interest incurred as penalty over the years. The waiver will come into effect from the 2006-2007 financial year and will continue till 2008-2009.

In a particular year, the agricultural income tax is computed on 60 per cent of the profits earned by a company/ garden in that year. The normal income tax is calculated on the remaining 40 per cent. Under the new scheme, there will be no change in the income tax policy: the tea companies will have to continue paying that.

Sources said agriculture income tax for the tea companies was as high as 30 per cent of the 60 per cent of profits on which it was calculated while the interest payable as penalty for non-payment was two per cent of the tax each month. For the next three years, the gardens will not have to pay this tax.

Under the special scheme, provisions have also been made to reduce the penalty incurred by 75 per cent, provided the tax has been paid for any previous year on or before March 31, 2007. But the arrears (the remaining tax and the 25 per cent penalty) will have to be paid in “lumpsums” anytime between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2009.

However, if no agriculture income tax for any year has been paid on or before March 31, 2007, the government will waive the total interest on condition that the unpaid taxes will be paid by March 31, 2009. The notification will be considered as having come into effect from June 1, 2007.

Sources said the state government decided to come up with the special scheme so that gardens find it “attractive to pay the tax”. Some of the reasons why these estates have been defaulting on payment are erosion of good market and high cost of production.

Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association, while confirming the special scheme, said: “We welcome the move. It will bring about some relief to the tea gardens.”

Source: The Telegraph

Chamurchi Tea Estate workers want co-operative society

Labourers of the closed Chamurchi Tea Estate in the Dooars want the Centre to acquire the garden and hand it over to a workers’ cooperative society.

Chamurchi has been shut for more than six years. Currently, a Citu-controlled operations and management committee (OMC) oversees the plucking and selling of green tealeaves at the estate.

This morning, about 400 Chamurchi workers demonstrated in front of the offices of the tea board and the joint labour commissioner here, demanding steps to facilitate the formation of the cooperative society and the acquisition of the garden. They also submitted memorandums signed by 820 of the 846 permanent labourers of the garden, who have enrolled as members of the society.

“We are not satisfied with the way the OMC at our garden has been working,” said Rasho Mahali, a worker of Chamurchi. “The owner, on the other hand, has stayed away for the past six-seven years. We can run the garden on our own through the cooperative society.”

“We have already applied for the registration of the society,” said Kamruddin Ansari, the secretary of Chamurchi Tea Estate Workers’ Cooperative Society Limited. “The Centre should now acquire the garden by invoking Sections 16 (D) and (E) of the Tea Act, 1953, and hand over the ownership to the society.”

Union minister of state for commerce and industries Jairam Ramesh had declared at a meeting in Calcutta on June 14 that Sushila Kejriwal, the owner of Chamurchi, was unwilling to run the garden. “It has been thus decided that a cooperative society, on the lines of Durgabari tea estate of Tripura, would be formed at the garden,” Ramesh had said.

Tea board officials admitted that the formation of a society could be one way of re-opening the estate, but also spoke of the possibility of a new owner.

“Kejriwal has informed us of an agreement between her and Omprakash Mal (a known face in the jute industry), who wants to buy the garden,” a board official said.

Most workers, however, claimed that the new owner is after the sops declared by the Centre for reopening closed gardens.

Source: The Telegraph

Management Fled tea garden without notice

Work in Nimtijhora Tea Estate under Kalchini police station was suspended today after the management fled the garden without serving any notice.

The suspension of work follows last Monday’s incident in which garden manager T.L. Pandey was confined to his chamber for 17 hours for allegedly assaulting a pregnant worker. The workers had gone to him to complain that the amount of tealeaves being put against each of their names was wrong. Pandey had denied the allegation.

Before leaving the garden, Pandey wrote to all trade unions and the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, P.D. Pradhan. “We will not return to the garden unless our security is assured and normality restored” the letter reads. Pradhan said a tripartite meeting will be held soon.

Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the National Union for Plantation Workers, said the main problem in the garden was the law and order.

Source: The Telegraph

Diya New CTC tea brand

Within just 30 days of its launch, Diya, a new brand of CTC tea, has set the cash registers ringing.

Promoted by Jagriti Mahila Unnayan Sangha — a cluster of 30 self-help groups (SHGs) — more than 2,000kg of the new brew has been sold and orders are pouring in from across the state.

“The attempt to merchandise branded CTC tea has shown an overwhelming initial response,” said Biswajit Das, the secretary of Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, North Bengal (Focin). “We had estimated a maximum sale of just about 500kg during the first month.”

Officials of the District Rural Development Cell (DRDC) of Siliguri and Focin had been instrumental in launching the product. All necessary initiatives to promote the branded tea were made and the brew was formally launched by Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on June 30.

At present, the SHG members are operating from a garage within the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad premises, that has been renovated and made suitable for blending and packaging of tea.

“Members of the Sangha have already become experts at their job,” said Paritosh Roy, the project director of DRDC. “They are also managing ancillary tasks like maintenance of accounts books and stock registers and depositing VAT and other central sales tax on their own.”

The tea is at present available in 100g packs, which have been priced at Rs 14 for the common people, while it is Rs 10 per packet for wholesalers. According to Das, packets of 50g and 250g will also be launched soon to cater to popular demand.

“We have sent our tea to Bankura, Hooghly, 24-Paraganas (South), Midnapore and Malda besides the Siliguri market,” said Swapna Chik Barik, the secretary of the group. “New orders are pouring in from Howrah, North Dinajpur, Burdwan, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri.”

The members, however, are looking forward to orders from Writers’ Buildings as proposed by the chief minister during the launch. “The chief minister had told us that our tea could be purchased for consumption at Writers’ Buildings,” one of them said. “We are eagerly waiting for the order and are banking on local minister Asok Bhattacharya to push the deal through.”

The success of the venture, which was considered offbeat for SHG members — most groups are engaged in toy making, tailoring, handicrafts, dairy and animal husbandry — has brought cheer to the 325 families which are dependent on the project’s success.

“It is like any other company. The profits will be calculated after the earnings accumulate at the end of the year,” said Barik. “However, we are planning to fix a salary for the group of 20-25 members who are putting in time and effort on a regular basis.”

Source: The Telegraph

Sardarjis better off with tea machines

His long white beard fluttering in the breeze, his turban streaked with grime, Ajit Singh walks into the machine room of Ducklangia tea estate in Assam.

Everyone has been waiting for the fitter expectantly. He at once gets down to work and, in a jiffy, points out where the problem lies.

As Nirod Singh, the manager of Ducklangia tea estate, says: “Ajit Singh was supposed to have retired eight years ago. But we requested the marvellous mechanic to continue — he is simply indispensable.”

Nirod Singh, who himself has 36 years of experience in the tea industry and has worked in several gardens in Assam and West Bengal, said most of the gardens have Sikh fitters who are so incredibly competent that they can find the solution to all sorts of problems in any kind of machinery in an instant.

“These Sikh mechanics may not have had a formal education, but they are technically better than the best,” Nirod Singh said.

Not just Ajit Singh of Ducklangia. Surjeet Singh, the head fitter of Kakojan tea estate, crossed his age of superannuation some 10 years ago. Then there is Shingara Singh of Umatara tea estate, Salvinder Singh of Gotonga garden, Manjit Singh of Hunwal estate — the list is endless.

Though many of the Sardarjis in Assam’s tea estates crossed their retirement age long back, they have been asked to continue. There is nobody good enough to replace them.

“Give him any problem with the machinery in the factory, and he comes out with a solution immediately,” said Pran Pratim Bhattacharrya, senior assistant manager of Kakojan tea estate, which has one of the biggest tea manufacturing factories in Asia.

The forefathers of these Sardarjis had landed up in Assam in search of jobs over a century ago. An official at the Upper Assam labour commissioner’s office said the Sardarjis have been working in tea garden factories for several generations.

Source: The Telegraph

Rhinos and Elephants in Tea Estate

Till about three days ago, it was Kanjhi Oraon’s responsibility as the sardar (overseer) of workers at Jadabpur Tea Estate to roam around the plantation, monitoring the pluckers.

Now, he does not dare to go anywhere near the northern fringes of the estate for fear of the four-footed hulks who have planted themselves there.

A herd of wild elephants and two-three rhinoceroses have come uninvited from Gorumara National Park — located right next to the estate, around 75km from Siliguri — and are refusing to leave.

“We are facing a tough time as no worker is ready to go to those parts of the plantation that are located close to the forest,” said Pradip Ghosh, the manager of the estate. “I don’t think I can persuade them otherwise until the animals clear away.”

Ghosh was one of the first to notice the pachyderms. “I was out on a recce of the garden on Tuesday morning when I saw the elephant herd and the rhinos. We are keeping a safe distance, fearing that they might turn aggressive any moment,” he said.

While the rhinos can mostly be seen squatting on the ground, nibbling at grasses and shrubs, the elephants, about 30-40 of them, are ravaging the area, leaving no option for the management but to suspend operations.

Kanjhi though said it was the rhinos that worried them more.

“We are accustomed to elephant intrusions and were not too bothered when we saw the herd this time,” he said. “However, the two or three rhinos that followed the elephants came as a shock — we are terrified of being charged at by those one-horned beast.”

The Jadabpur estate has 330 workers and a total area of 277 hectare, with the plantation spread across 150 hectare. It is frequented by wild animals because of its proximity to Gorumara National Park.

“The road leading to the garden separates it from the forest,” said Ghosh. “There is a fence near Kalipur, but that is not effective in stopping animals from entering the garden.”

About a month ago, some elephants came in, injured a person and damaged a couple of houses, the garden residents said. They admitted to having a mixed reaction to the presence of the rhinos: wonder at seeing the animals for the first time from such close quarters and fear at being chased or injured by them.

A forest official posted at Gorumara said he and his colleagues knew about the situation at Jadabpur tea estate and were keeping a close watch on the animals.

Source: The Telegraph