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

High Court questions Bengal govt for closed tea gardens

Calcutta High Court today asked the Bengal government to file affidavits stating what action it has taken to open the closed tea gardens in North Bengal.

The directive came after the court admitted for hearing a PIL on the matter.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Tapen Sen also asked the government to state its action against the trafficking rackets that are allegedly active in the tea belt, luring away women with the promise of jobs.

Advocate Santi Ranajan Das today moved the PIL on behalf of Amitava Chakraborty, a social activist of Jalpaiguri. “In north Bengal, 18 tea gardens are closed since 2002. At least 750 workers of these gardens have died of starvation. But neither the Centre nor the state has taken any initiatives to reopen the estates,” Das said.

The Centre, however, is poised to acquire five closed gardens in the Dooars invoking 16 (E) of the Tea Act.

Das alleged that taking advantage of the situation, some people have started luring away young women from the closed gardens.

He demanded that a high power committee, headed by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee, be set up to find a solution to the problems at the tea gardens.

A year ago, a similar PIL was filed before the high court, which asked the state government to produce a list of names of all the workers who had died of starvation after the closure of the tea gardens.

The case is still pending and the state government is yet to submit the list.

Source: The Telegraph

Warehouse strike called off, merchants count tea losses

Warehouse labourers here joined work after three days today following a tripartite meeting at the office of the assistant labour commissioner.

The labourers — there are about 350 in Siliguri — were demanding a 15 per cent hike in wages. They are paid 70 paise per bag, with Rs 1,800 per month being their minimum wage.

“The crisis was resolved after talks between warehouse owners and workers. Both sides will meet again in my office on September 19,” said assistant labour commissioner Arunima Biswas.

Pawan Bansal, member and former president of Siliguri Warehouse Owners’ Association, confirmed that the labourers had joined work today.

“It was not an official strike. The labourers were just not reporting for work,” he said. “Normality has been restored after today’s meeting. They have asked for a hike of 15 per cent but we can afford only 8-10 per cent.”

The workers’ agitation, however, had other repercussions. Much to the sellers’ dismay, buyers got an extension in the deadline for making payments for tea sold in the auction.

“According to auction rules, we have granted a two-day extension to prompts of Sale 35 and 36,” said S.K. Saria, the chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC). “Sale 37 will take place tomorrow.”

Prompt in tea industry jargon stands for the number of days by which the buyers are supposed to pay for the tea bought at the auction. According to STAC rules, a prompt of 13 working days is granted to a buyer.

The auction organisers had earlier extended the prompts of Sale 33 and 34 as huge quantities of sold tea were lying idle because of bad road conditions.

“The situation is like a double edged sword for us,” a planter said. “On the one hand, our payments are getting delayed due to the successive extension of prompts, while on the other tea prices are falling because of excess stock. This year the average price is Rs 3 per kg less than last year.”

Source: The Telegraph

Locked out tea garden workers receive aid

More than 2,500 workers of Kalchini and Raimatang tea estates today received Rs 2,750 each under the Financial Assistance for Workers of Locked Out Industry scheme.

The funds had been pending since March. Initially the amount was Rs 500 per month. From April, the allowance was increased to Rs 750. Both the gardens have been closed since February 2006 and the workers became eligible for assistance from March this year.

Shavik Lama, a worker of Kalchini tea estate, said though they were happy about the allowance, it was not a permanent solution. “We want the garden to open as it is only then that we will get benefits like electricity, ration and, of course, regular wages.”

Source: The Telegraph

China interested in Indian Tea

There is potential to increase tea trade between India and China, China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA) vice-chairman Jahn Litan said here yesterday.

In an interactive session with the Confederation of Indian Industry yesterday, he said CTMA could play a vital role to boost export and import of the beverage between the two countries if there was positive response from India.

CTMA information officer Zhu Zhonghai, who visited several tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills along with its delegation, lauded the quality produced, particularly its flavour which according to him would win the hearts of the tea-loving population of china.

West Bengal Minister for Municipal Affairs and Urban Development Ashok Bhattacharya was also present at the interactive session.

Source: PTI

China interested in Indian Tea

There is potential to increase tea trade between India and China, China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA) vice-chairman Jahn Litan said here yesterday.

In an interactive session with the Confederation of Indian Industry yesterday, he said CTMA could play a vital role to boost export and import of the beverage between the two countries if there was positive response from India.

CTMA information officer Zhu Zhonghai, who visited several tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills along with its delegation, lauded the quality produced, particularly its flavour which according to him would win the hearts of the tea-loving population of china.

West Bengal Minister for Municipal Affairs and Urban Development Ashok Bhattacharya was also present at the interactive session.

Source: PTI

Iranian team to visit tea gardens in Bengal

A 10-member Iranian delegation will visit tea gardens and factories in Bengal over the next few days. Iran is one of the big emerging export markets for Indian tea.

The delegation comprises officials from Iran’s health ministry as well as exporters.

“We had invited them to come and visit our gardens and factories for a better idea of how Indian orthodox tea is processed. They will proceed to Sri Lanka from here,” said Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board.

The Tea Board and the commerce ministry have identified three potential markets to promote the beverage — Iran, Pakistan and Egypt.

Iran has introduced a plant master file under which Indian tea exporters will have to register their produce with the Iranian health ministry for quality checks.

“Doing business in the Iranian market is difficult because of its bureaucratic procedures,” said an industry expert. The Tea Board expects exports to Iran to touch 7 million kg this year.

In 2006, tea exports to Iran had dipped to 4.92 million kg, earning a revenue of Rs 48.41 crore. In 2005, India exported 6.62 million kg for a total revenue of Rs 70.68 crore.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Iran is a tea producing country that relies on substantive imports. Iran consumes approximately 100 million kg, of which 50 million kg is imported. Output in the past five years has fallen as government assistance to producers declined.

Iran lifted the ban on Indian tea imports in early 2004, which was imposed because of the huge quantity of unsold domestic stock. Earlier, Iran had a rule under which for every kg of Indian tea imported, two kg of Iranian tea was blended with it. However, now the government has relaxed this regulation.

Iranians generally prefer Assam orthodox. India has an advantage this year as the price of Sri Lankan orthodox tea, which comprises a majority of Iran’s imports, has increased sharply.

Closed gardens

The Tea Board chairman today met owners of closed gardens and bank officials.

“I am going to present a report to all the stakeholders. There has to be a mutual consensus before a final decision,” Banerjee added.

He said one or two gardens could be reopened by new or existing owners.

Source: The Telegraph

Tata Tea locks out Dam Dim Tea Estate

Tata Tea confirmed its decision to declare a lockout in Dam Dim Tea Estate through a press release today even as trade unions expressed eagerness to end the deadlock.

The company said the management of the garden located in Malbazar, 45km from here, was compelled to shut the estate after the manager, three assistant managers and two welfare officers were “kept under illegal confinement” for 17 hours. The statement also said 46,000kg of plucked leaf was “completely damaged” as the workers had refused to unload them at the factory.

The workers, however, have denied the charges. Once a model garden in the Dooars, the fate of its 2,200 odd workers is now uncertain.

Officials of the Dooars branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA), of which Dam Dim is a member garden, confirmed that both the Citu and Intuc have approached them to initiate dialogue that would end the deadlock. “There have been some correspondences from their side. We will look into them,” a DBITA official said.

Mani Darnal, joint general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated NUPW in Jalpaiguri, admitted that unlike other gardens, Tata estates like Dam Dim did not have any financial problems like irregular wages or pending provident funds. “It is a minor issue that could have been solved through bipartite meetings. We have asked the management’s representatives to fix a meeting and inform us,” said Darnal.

Trade union leaders had yesterday said they were not happy with the style of functioning of the new manager of the garden, Uday Bhanu Das. Apparently Das had switched the weekly holiday from Sunday to Monday. “Not only that, plantation workers were brought to the factory and factory workers sent to pluck tealeaves. If any worker protested, he was not assigned a job for 10 days at a stretch,” a CPM leader had said yesterday.

Officials at the district labour department said they would intervene only if the bipartite meeting fails.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Board to conduct program for small tea growers

The Tea Board of India will for the first time conduct a training program for the 15,000-odd small tea growers of the state from September 11.

The program, to be funded by the board, will be conducted with the help of Uttarbanga Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (UBKV) authorities based at Pundibari in Cooch Behar. The short-listed growers are from Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and North Dinajpur districts.

“The board has lived up to our expectations,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the joint secretary of the Jalpaiguri Zilla Kshudra Cha Chashi Samiti. “We hope that the training starting with 21 small growers in the region will be a regular affair aimed at training the growers, most of whom lack proper knowledge to produce quality tealeaves,” he said.

According to Himadri Bhattacharya, the training coordinator and head of the plantation crops and processing department in UBKV, the training will be held at Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Chopra in North Dinajpur. The participants will stay there and attend both the three-hour practical and two-hour theoretical classes everyday, he said.

“The medium of instruction will be Bengali and adequate study material will be supplied to the trainees,” Bhattacharya added.

The list of subjects for the training includes plantation material, soil and climatic factors, nursery maintenance, land preparation, nurturing young tea bushes, shade tree and weed management.

Fertility management, drainage and spraying, irrigation, plucking and leaf handling, pest management, record keeping, entrepreneurship development, schemes of tea board, bank and other enterprises also figure on the syllabus.

Source: The Telegraph

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today threatened to launch a movement in the tea belt of north Bengal if the Center and state fail to open the closed estates within the next one month.

She said this at a convention of workers from closed tea gardens organized by the Trinamul-affiliated Terai Dooars Tea Plantation Workers’ Union. The tea trade union was formed by the party recently to augment its support base in the brew belt.

“We have heard a lot about packages and initiatives. Now we want to make it clear that in case both the state and Center fail to reopen the closed gardens, we will simultaneously organize rallies in the streets of Calcutta and Delhi with the starving residents,” Mamata said. “We have formed our trade union in the tea industry and hope that now the governments will stop being sluggish and not force us to launch a movement.”

The meet, organized at the Colony Maidan here, was attended by close to 20,000 people, mostly from the tea gardens.

“Given the plight of tea workers, who are dying everyday, we want the state and Center to form a committee to monitor the implementation of the special package in the closed and sick tea gardens. This will stop the siphoning of money,” Mamata said.

A number of garden-level trade union leaders from estates like New Dooars, Raipur, Sikarpur and Bhandapur, Neora Nuddy and Anandapur, owing allegiance to the Citu, Intuc and the HMS, formally joined the Trinamul trade union today.

“We smell a rat in the lackadaisical attitude of the state government in reopening the gardens. They are trying to convert tea gardens into real estate as they have done at Chandmoni near Siliguri,” she alleged. “The recent decision by Tata Tea to resort to disinvestment in the tea sector is a clear indication.”

In her speech, Mamata highlighted the development of railway services in north Bengal during her stint as minister and trained guns at the CPM for its failure to check starvation deaths.

Estate reopens

The 11-day strike called by the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Majdoor Union at Bhagatpur Tea Garden in Nagrakata block was called off today following a tripartite meeting, reports our Jaigaon correspondent.

Source: The Telegraph