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