GI for Darjeeling Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Economic Times

Tea worker reinstated in tea garden after 23 years dismissal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Warehouse strike threat

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

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

The suspension came into force on October 16.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Black tea beneficial for blood sugar patients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small tea growers demand

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Agro Bio-diversity in tea culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Statesman

More of Organic Black tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea social security measures need to be retained

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

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

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

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

* Responsibility of providing houses to remain with the plantation owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Darjeeling Tea article by Matt Gross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Matt Gross

Puja grant for closed tea garden workers

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Fund use mismatched at tea garden

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

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

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

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

Trouble started at Kanthalguri in the morning.

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Labor Pain in the tea gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: CommodityOnline

Bonus Row and loss of job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Alleged leopard attack kills boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A search for Sushen had proved futile, Jaitu added.

Source: The Telegraph

Bonus for closed tea garden workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Estate acquisition by government if owner doesn't respond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph

Truck loaded with tea falls off bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Telegraph