India to seek GI tag for orthodox teas in Europe

Mumbai: The Union government is firming plans to apply in Europe the so-called geographical indication (GI) tags for Indian orthodox teas, said Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce and power.

To start with, steps have been initiated to register GI status for Darjeeling tea in Europe as current registrations are only for India, said Ramesh, who was in Tamil Nadu recently to accord GI status for orthodox teas grown in the Nilgiris district.

Niligiris tea is the fourth Indian tea after the Darjeeling, Assam and Kangra varieties to be given GI tags.

A GI is a product name associated with a certain region, and cannot be used by similar products from other regions. The status would identify it globally as unique for qualities exclusively attributed to the place of its origin and confer legal protection against unauthorized use of the name by other producers.

GI status also gives these orthodox teas a competitive edge in the global market, said Ramesh.

Basudev Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India, a government trade promotion body, has started promoting production of orthodox teas to meet a shift in global demand for such traditional varieties.

Till mid-1950s, India was primarily a producer of orthodox teas. Tea producers eventually shifted to the now more popular but lower quality cut, tear and curl (CTC) variety to cater to a growing demand in the erstwhile Soviet Union. CTC varieties account for about 90% of India’s annual tea production of more than 950 million kg.
Annual production of orthodox Darjeeling tea, which was accorded GI status in 2004, is around 10 million kg spread over 87 gardens in West Bengal, or about 10% of all teas grown in the state. The orthodox variety fetches between Rs200 and Rs10,000 per kg.

Similarly, production of traditional Assam tea, which acquired GI status two months ago, is 10% of the total 500 million kg of tea grown in the state. The tea, in demand globally for its strength and thickness, is mainly grown in the valley of the Bramhaputra river, said C. Saikia, executive director, northern region, Tea Board.
As for the orthodox tea grown in the Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh, annual production is less than 1 million kg. Orthodox Nilgiris tea, grown 1,500ft above sea level in Tamil Nadu’s Kothagiri, Coonoor, Ooty and Kundha hills, accounts for about 16% of the 120 million kg of all tea varieties grown in the district.

Manager at cop door as workers pluck on their own

Alipurduar, Dec. 25: The management of Kohinoor Tea Estate has lodged a police complaint after workers of the closed garden started plucking greenleaves on their own and sold them to another garden.

On Friday, the management closed the garden in Samuktala without any notice. It also did not distribute the fortnightly payment due to the workers two days later.

The workers, deprived of their wages, started plucking on Tuesday which continued till yesterday.

“We plucked about 20,000kg of green leaves in two days and sold them to the Rahimabad tea estate at the rate of Rs 12.50 per kilogram. We earned around Rs 2.5 lakh and paid Rs 270 to each of the 888 workers,” said Anil Chik Baraik, the garden unit secretary of the Citu-run Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.

“The management compelled us to pluck the green leaves. They did not make the payment due on December 22, although the labourers had worked during the fortnight. We have planted bushes and the tealeaves are our property. How can we allow them to get damaged,” Baraik said.

The money made the workers happy. The Christians — the garden has around 350 of them — organised a cultural programme spending Rs 20,000 to celebrate Christmas.

According to Baraik, the workers had run the garden on their own for a year in 2003 when the management had abandoned the estate. “We did not have any problem then. We will again continue the plucking from Saturday.”

Keshab Sinha, the manager of the garden, however, described the workers’ action as “illegal”. “A section of workers along with some agents are involved in this illegal process. I have named them in a complaint with Samuktala police on Tuesday,” he said over the phone. “I issued a notice for suspension of work to the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar and the police and requested the district magistrate to take care of the garden property during the closure.”

On the tripartite meeting at the SDO’s office that was called off yesterday, Sinha claimed he did not receive any information on it. “We are always ready for talks if the administration invites us,” the manager added.

Assault slur on tea estate managers

Alipurduar, Dec. 22: A 62-year-old retired worker of Lankapara Tea Garden in Birpara was beaten up allegedly by two assistant managers of the estate on the charges of stealing firewood. Joseph Munda has been admitted to Birpara State General Hospital.

The two officials of the garden, run by Duncans, are missing, police said.

Munda said from his hospital bed that he was returning home after collecting firewood at 4.15pm yesterday. “Suddenly, the two assistant managers, Prafulla Das and Sanjoy Das, forced me to enter their chamber and started beating me with their hands, legs and sticks, accusing me with stealing the firewood. The assault continued for half an hour. They hit me on the chest, abdomen and head. Now I cannot urinate properly. They let off me with a warning that I should not disclose the incident to my family members.”

About 10pm, Munda started bleeding from the mouth and felt severe pain in his body. His family members rushed him to the garden hospital but doctors there referred him to the Birpara hospital.

In protest, most of the garden workers stayed from work this morning and demonstrated in front of the factory gate, demanding the arrest of the accused managers.

Officials from the Birpara police station reached the garden at 11am. Immediately, the trade union leaders held talks with the management in the presence of the law enforcers. Three hours later, the protesters withdrew the agitation after they were assured of action against the accused.

Manika Munda, the daughter-in-law of the victim, lodged an FIR with the Birpara police.

Rabin Rai, the Citu leader from Birpara who visited the garden after the incident, admitted that the retired worker was assaulted on the charges of stealing firewood. “The two assistant managers also asked the doctors at the garden hospital not to treat Munda when he was taken there at night.”

The union leader said he had a talk with the garden manager, Vivek Singh Bhatnagar, who assured him that Munda’s medical expenses at the hospital would be borne by the estate.

The subdivisional police officer of Alipurduar, Ujjwal Bhowmik, admitted to have received the complaint. “The two assistant managers are absconding. We have started a case and an investigation is on,” he said. The garden management could not be contacted despite several attempts.

From: The Telegraph

Kohinoor abandoned for third time

Kohinoor Tea Estate (Alipurduar), Dec. 21: Nearly 3,000 people of a garden are apprehensive of what the future holds for them after the management of Kohinoor Tea Estate abandoned it last week, bringing back memories of two other shut down instances during the lean season.

Kohinoor, which is 21km from Alipurduar town, withdrew its managerial staff from without any notice on the evening of December 19. Even in the evening, none of the 888 permanent workers or their dependants in the garden were aware that it had been abandoned. The realisation came late in the night.

Anil Chik Baraik, the secretary of the garden unit of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, said the garden owed the workers not less than Rs 6 crore.

“Late on Friday night, a source informed us that the management staff were not coming back. We informed the Samuktala police and the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar that the estate has been abandoned. Four years ago, during an agreement the management promised us many things, none of which were fulfilled. We sacrificed 20 months wages to help the management but all in vain,” said Baraik.

Today was a date for a fortnightly payment. The workers had requested deputy manager Suman Ghosh to see if the salary could be given on the 19th so that they could shop for Christmas from the Samuktala weekly market on Friday.

“There is no reason for the management to leave because this year, too, we produced five lakh kg of made-tea. If we had been allowed to work today, 10,000 kg of green leaves would have been plucked. The management left the garden so that they did not have to pay the wages on the 22nd. On the 16th and the 19th, there were two meetings in the office of assistant labour commissioner on early salary, but nobody attended them. This is the third time the management left the garden during the lean season,” said Baraik.

In 2006, the management had deserted the garden from December 6 to January 7. A similar shutdown took place in March this year for 10 days. Prem Pandey, a worker of the garden and the member of the RSP’s UTUC, said the lean season was a time of “no production”. “The planters shut down the garden to avoid paying us for the lean season. Besides, abandoning without notice, deprives us of government aid.”

Keshab Sinha, the general manager, said over the phone that the management had wanted to deduct wages for the period when the workers demonstrated in front of the garden for three hours from December 3 to the 16th. “That is when trouble started. The workers met the deputy manager and threatened not to leave the office, if their wages were deducted. On the 16th, they burnt my effigy. We felt insecure and left the garden.”

Amitangshu Chakroborty, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said: “When they did not work for three hours for 13 continuous days, how can they demand wages? The management is ready to discuss the problem.”

MP calls for steps to revive recession-hit tea industry

Darjeeling: CPM Rajya Sabha MP from Darjeeling Saman Pathak said in Parliament on Sunday that the tea
industry has been affected by the global
meltdown and that urgent measures must be taken to save the industry. Sunday was International Tea Day.

Pathak urged the government to impose export regulations and formulate a master plan to save the tea industry from the crisis. The increasing influence of brokers, who manipulate the price of tea export, was also affecting the tea industry, he said.

Pathak urged the government to replace old tea bushes, as these had outlived their utility and had poor productivity. He said adequate facilities must be provided to the garden workers and their interests safeguarded.

"It is difficult to ascertain the quantity and market worth of the Indian tea that is exported, as private companies with support of brokers sell off nearly 60% of the produce outside the ambit of auction centers. Tea must be exported through auction centers to overcome this problem." said Pathak.

Western countries, such as the UK, USA, Germany and Japan are major tea markets, especially for Darjeeling tea. The demand in international market last year was 178.75 million kg, is much less than previous years.

Pathak said that in the last few years, some of these tea importers had drastically cut down imports, due to a series of "unavoidable" circumstances. A new policy for market management must be adopted to increase export in international markets, as the measures taken by the government are not adequate, he said.

From - Times of India

Tea workers’ union hits back at minister’s lay-off proposal

SILIGURI, Dec. 15: The political and workers’ union leaders across the political spectrum have taken strong exception to the Union minister of state for commerce and industry Mr Jairam Ramesh's lay off proposal for the tea plantations in Terai and Dooars of north Bengal. “The Union minister was expected to provide solace to the half starved tea plantation labourers, but he has instead threatened to liquidate them in the form of his lay off proposal. We under no circumstances would acquiesce before such a perilous proposal,” said the leaders of the Intuc, Citu and Aituc, the trade union wings of the Congress, CPI-M and CPI.

The reactions come following Mr Ramesh's comments in Jalpaiguri yesterday that the principal impediment to the revival of the doddering tea industry in north Bengal was the enormous bulk of its work force. “The only practical solution left to us in the direction of revival is to retrench the extra burden in the work force by way of VRS and other methods,” he said.

Threatening to stonewall such a proposal, the state Intuc president and a senior state Congress leader Mr Subrata Mukherjee said that his organisation would storm the Union minister's office in New Delhi if he continued with such infantile utterances regarding labour retrenchment in the plantations. Echoing the Intuc leader's aggressive pitch the state Citu president Mr Kali Ghosh said that if the Centre went forward to act on the minister's proposal his trade union would resort to a no-holds -barred retaliation. “We would paralyse everything if the Centre does anything of this kind in its desperation to placate the plantation owners,” he said.
Taking umbrage to the Union minister's revival prescription, the state Aituc president Mr Ranjit Guha said that his union hoped that the Centre would not take Mr Ramesh and his utterances seriously.

India tea to go online

Good news for tea traders! By the end of January next year tea trading in India will go online. The union minister for commerce Jairam Ramesh inaugurated online auctioning in the Siliguri tea auction centre today. Online tea trading has already begun in Kolkata, the oldest tea auction centre in the country and Guwahati, in Assam. Mr Ramesh said e-auctioning would begin in a phased manner in the remaining four of the seven major tea auction centres in India in Coimbatore, Kochi, Coonoor and Jalpaiguri. He added e-auctioning would make tea trading more transparent and fair. The online e-auctioning system has been developed by NSE IT, a subsidiary of National Stock Exchange.

The move is considered to be a major development in the 150 year old tea industry in India. For long, India has been the largest producer of tea in the world, manufacturing 500 million kg annually, which amounts to 31 per cent of the total tea produced internationally. In the domestic market tea is traded in two ways – private selling and auctioning at the seven major tea auctions mentioned above. Kolkata houses the oldest tea auction centre in the country, established 147 years ago. E-auctioning was inaugurated last month in Nilhat House, Kolkata, where the office of one of the largest tea broker in India, J.Thomas & Co, is located.

The annual turnover of the India tea industry is Rs 10,000 crores, out of which a little less than Rs 2,000 crores is earned in foreign exchange. In fact tea has always been a major source for foreign exchange earnings in India. The tea industry provides direct employment to one million workers and indirect employment to 10 million people.

The chairman of the Tea Board of India Basudev Banerjee stated the move to transfer to the online tea auctioning system is part of an international initiative to introduce online tea trading. Major international tea auctioning centres such as Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Mombasa (Africa) would also begin online tea auctioning soon.

Mr Ramesh says the aim was to have a national e-market or a cyber market for tea, a development which would do away with the physical tea auction centres which could be used for storage and distribution of tea. NSE IT is now developing a settlement system for clearing payments in online auctioning.

Most people in the tea industry believe e-auctioning would enable transparency in the tea trade and in the process, ensure that tea sellers got a fair price. The current manual system of tea auction has been criticized for its inability to effectively check unethical dealings. There have been repeated allegations (not proved though) that major buyers of tea in the auction centres form cartels to manipulate auction prices in their favour. During the recent slump in the tea industry (a crisis the industry is not quite out of as yet) tea producers hardly managed to secure a minimum a sustainable price even though retail prices in the market were comparatively high. It is expected online tea auctioning would prevent malpractices, if any, in the auctioning process.

The West Bengal Urban Development minister Ashok Bhattacharyya, who attended the inaugural function, announced the introduction of logos to identify tea from specific regions such as Jalpaiguri-Dooars, Darjeeling, Terai etc. Each region has its own peculiar quality and the logos would denote the brand and help maintain a minimum standard besides checking imitation. The world famous Darjeeling tea, known for its legendary flavour, has been a victim of imitation following reports that tea produced in the neighbouring hills of Nepal were being marketed as Darjeeling tea. Online tea trading is expected to be the answer to such malpractices.

A logo for tea from Dooars-Terai region!

SILIGURI, Dec. 12: After Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris, its now time for the tea produced in the Dooars-Terai region of West Bengal to get an official logo (photograph of the proposed logo right). The Tea Board of India has carved out the logo portraying a jubilant elephant with tea leaves, which would be unveiled by the Union minister of commerce, industry and power, Mr Jairam Ramesh, at the ITPA Hall, Jalpaiguri on Sunday, 14 December.

As per the Tea Board chairman, Mr Basudev Banerjee, the move is to popularise the Dooars-Terai tea, which makes a sizeable contribution in India's overall CTC tea production.
“Dooars-Terai tea does not qualify for a Geographical Indication (GI) but nevertheless it is one of the finest quality CTC varieties that India has to offer and hence, we thought it would be better to brand it by attributing a logo,” Mr Banerjee said.

As of now, the old variety of the Darjeeling, Nilgiri and the Assam Tea enjoy the GI protection saving these finest quality teas from being duplicated at home and abroad. Meanwhile, after the tea auction centres in Kolkata and Guwahati, the electronic auction system is being introduced at the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre (STAC) tomorrow. Union minister Mr Jairam Ramesh who would be arriving here tomorrow on a two-day north Bengal visit, would inaugurate the facility.

Apart from Darjeeling, Dooars-Terai, the STAC handles huge quantities of tea produced in Assam and Cachar and the introduction of the e-auction facility is likely to make the process faster.

Workshop for small tea growers held

JALPAIGURI, Dec. 12: A workshop on the "Emergence of Small Tea Growers: Boom and Shaping the Socio-economic Re-structure in Rural Areas of North Bengal and Sikkim" was held today by the Institute for Plantation Agricultural and Rural Workers in Collaboration with the National Small Tea Growers’ Federation India in Jalpaiguri.

According to one of the organisers, Mr Samir Roy, several small tea growers of Assam, Bihar, Sikkim and West Bengal participated in the workshop and discussed about development of small tea growers in the North-East region was the topic of discussion. “Several problems regarding infrastructure and information regarding tea plantation were discussed in the workshop,” he said.

Mr Roy said that the Centre and the Tea Board of India must have a positive approach towards the small tea growers for the sector's development as an industry.
Mr VV Dobal, chief adviser of the Cooperative Society of Small Tea Growers in Sikkim, said that the small tea sector has great potential in Sikkim. “There were around 90 growers working on 250 acres of land in Sikkim but they face a lot of problems because of the lack of facilities,” he said.

The DM Jalpaiguri as well as the chairman of the North Bengal Tea Auction Centre, Mrs Vandana Yadav, appreciated the initiative and said that the workshop would help the small tea growers. “The state government has started a survey of small tea plantations and I am hopeful that the small tea sector would develop soon,” the DM said.

From: The Statesman

Tea too less for auction to go online at Jalpaiguri

Siliguri, Dec. 12: Members of the North Bengal Tea Auction Centre (NBTAC) in Jalpaiguri have to be satisfied with only a demonstration of electronic auction system thanks to the pathetic inflow of the brew.

The experts from NSE.IT, the information technology wing of National Stock Exchange that has designed the software, will only make a presentation of the system at a programme in Jalpaiguri on December 14. The e-auction systems are being launched at six other auction centres in the country this month. While the system is already in place in Calcutta and Guwahati, it will be introduced in Siliguri tomorrow,

“The tea board has decided to introduce e-auction at all six auction centres save Jalpaiguri where the brew is hardly sold nowadays,” G.Boriah, the director (tea development), told The Telegraph over the phone from Calcutta. “A presentation will be held along with formal release of the Dooars-Terai tea logo at the centre.”

The centre, which became operational in February 2005, has been facing a crunch in the flow of the brew for quite a few months. Although it had recorded the sale of lakhs of kg in the first three years, only 6,000-odd kg of tea were auctioned in the current financial year, prompting the authorities to cancel the sales dates.

“We are aware that the e-auction will not be introduced in Jalpaiguri and it will be the only centre where the system would not be available,” said N.K. Basu, the secretary of the NBTAC.

“Given the present condition of the auction centre and its discouraging sales figures, we are keeping our fingers crossed and are not very sure of the centre’s future,” he added.

Stakeholders of the industry feel that the centre is at a difficult juncture now.

“Low inflow is leading to low sales and that is why the tea board cannot finalise the launch of e-auction here,” a member of the NBTAC said. “We fear that the situation will become worse and sales might further drop if e-auction is not put in place. It is already behind other centres in terms of sales.”

Following the pathetic state of the centre, the residents have formed the Save Jalpaiguri Tea Auction Centre Committee to mount pressure on the government to bring it on a par with the Siliguri centre. Although Jalpaiguri district has the highest number of tea estates in north Bengal, the centre is suffering because of poor inflow of the commodity.

Small tea growers demand easy cash

Siliguri, Dec. 9: Small tea growers in India will hold their two-day annual general meeting in Jalpaiguri and demand that funds should be made easily available for them.

Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations (Cista), said in Jalpaiguri today that the meeting would be held on December 14 and 15 and farmers from all tea-producing states in the country and special invitees from Nepal and Bangladesh would be present.

As Union minister of state for commerce and power Jairam Ramesh and Tea Board of India chairman Basudeb Banerjee are scheduled to attend the inaugural function, the organisers will use the forum to raise a number of issues the growers face and to place some demands.

Chakraborty said the farmers would demand the formulation of a policy to determine the floor price of tealeaves so that the growers would not incur losses. A separate directorate for small growers, establishment of financial link with banks and other lending institutions to ensure availability of working capital to growers and simplification of the process to get them registered with the tea board are the other demands.

“We will also ask the government to introduce plantation credit cards which will ensure funds and fertilisers,” said Chakraborty. He also wanted the representatives of Cista to be included in the policy making process in the commerce ministry or the tea board. He said there should be a special drive to open mini factories for small growers.

Growers from Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh will be present at the meeting. They will also attend a seminar on “challenges for strengthening small tea growers’ society or self-help groups as business units”.

Sources said there were around 2.5 lakh small growers across the country, contributing 25 per cent of India’s total tea production.

“We will also celebrate International Tea Day on December 15 at Islampur in North Dinajpur. A number of Bengal ministers will be present at the programme,” said Chakraborty.

“The small growers will organise a rally, street plays, puppet show and traditional dances as part of a campaign to promote the beverage,” he added.

Tea groups take their demands to Centre

JALPAIGURI, Dec. 9: The West Bengal unit of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Association (Cista) has decided to place several demands with the Centre for the development of the small tea holdings in West Bengal, on their 2nd Annual Body Meet on 14 December in Jalpaiguri.

After the formation of the Cista in 2007 at Kuttikanam of Idduki district in Kerala, the small tea growers are getting various facilities all over India excluding in West Bengal. Alleging so, Mr Bijay Gopal Chakraborty, vice-president of Cista said that the association is getting deprived from the productive policies of the Centre. “Last year the small tea growers produced 6 crore 80 lakh kg of tea, which was 30 per cent of the total tea produced in north Bengal. Moreover, West Bengal has over 15,000 small tea growers but neither the state government nor the Tea Board is taking proper care of the small growers,” Mr Chakraborty said.

“The Union minister of state for commerce and industry, Mr Jairam Ramesh, is expected in Jalpaiguri on 14 December for the inauguration of the Tea Board office in Jalpaiguri and to participate in our meet. We have decided to submit a memorandum to the minister comprising of our demands. The demands include issuance of plantation credit cards for small tea growers and setting up of economic relation between financial institutions and the small tea growers,” Mr Chakraborty added.

Tea protest against bank delay

Siliguri, Dec. 8: A group of workers of the closed Raipur Tea Estate demonstrated in front of a nationalised bank’s branch in Jalpaiguri today, blaming the financial institution for the delay in reopening the garden.

The bank had seized the keys of the garden and approached the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRD) to get back the money it had lent to the management, which had left Raipur on May 7, 2005.

“The bankers are delaying the handing over of the keys of the factory and other establishments, even though the owner has cleared the dues,” said Augustan Lakra, a worker of Raipur located on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town. Even today, Somali Munda, a 62-year-old woman, died because of malnutrition and anaemia of the garden, he said.

Blaming the district administration, state and the central governments for the deadlock, a worker said because of the delay, the garden owner went on saying that the estate could not be reopened as the keys were with the bank.

“More than 200 people have died since May 2005 and several more are languishing in poverty,” said Aloke Chakraborty, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, who led the demonstration.

While the bank officials refused comment describing the matter sub-judice, trade union leaders claimed that the bankers had contacted them. “They had sent a letter to us, requesting us not to go for today’s demonstration. They want to dispose of the issue fast,” Chakraborty said. A hearing at the DRD was fixed today but there was hardly any progress. “The next hearing will be held from January 28 to 30,” Chakraborty said.

Poacher held with squirrels

Alipurduar, Dec. 7: Forest guards arrested a tea garden worker and seized five dead flying squirrels from Buxa Tiger Reserve (East) on Friday. Two accomplices of Niren Ekka, however, gave the forest staff a slip.

Spurred into action by a tip-off that three persons had entered the North Rydak range, the foresters started scouring the jungle for the trio and spotted them in CR-4 compartment. Sensing that they were going to be caught, the poachers started fleeing, but Ekka was captured and five dead squirrels were recovered.

The guards interrogated Ekka, a worker of Rydak Tea Estate, and got the names of the other two hunters. The foresters raided the houses of the two, but they were not present.

Ekka was produced in the court of additional chief judicial magistrate in Alipurduar yesterday and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.

The deputy field director of the reserve, Suvankar Sengupta, said the squirrel belonged to Schedule-II category of Wildlife Act. “Although Ekka told us that they had killed the squirrels for meat, we are investigating the actual intention of the hunters. Anyway, the trio had entered the forest illegally.”

According to some forest officers, the skins of squirrel are in great demand in the market as they could be used to make decorative items.

On February 17, the guards of Rydak range had arrested two persons, Khullol Alam from Bihar and Safikul Islam from Dhubri, when they were trying to trap mynahs. The forest department is investigating whether Ekka had any connect with Alam and Islam.

Source: The Telegraph

Pay hike for tea workers

The near 30,000 tea industry sub-staffs in north Bengal have got a salary hike with effect from 1 April this year. The development comes in the wake of a tripartite agreement inked between the employee unions, the planters’ bodies and the state government in Kolkata on 26 November.
According to the Intuc leader, Mr Aloke Chakrovorty, who attended the two-day long tripartite negotiation as one of the employee representatives, the average hike in the basic salary is calculated at around Rs 300.
“Along with the DA, VDA and other allowances, the hike per sub-staff is around Rs 500,” he said. As per the revised salary structure, a Grade-I tea industry sub-staff will now be paid in the scale of Rs 1530-22-1750-29-2185, Grade-II would get Rs 1490-21-1700-25-2075 and those in Grade - III, would fetch Rs 1440-20-20-1640-24-2000. As decided, the new salary structure would put into retrospective effect from 1 April 2008 and the same would be in place for the next three years. “The employers would pay arrears to the concerned staffs in two equal installments on or before 25 December this year and 31 March 2009, respectively,” informed Mr Chakvorty.
As per the previous tripartite agreement vis-à-vis the sub-staffs’ pay signed on 25 July 2005, the employees had got a basic salary hike of Rs 181. The two-day long tripartite negotiation meeting culminated into the new agreement

Tea workshops

The Goodricke Group Limited has decided to conduct workshops on tea cultivation for small growers of Jalpaiguri district.

The group that has 27 gardens across the country, 12 of them being in the Dooars, has decided to hold such trainings to ensure that the tealeaves supplied by the small growers to the company are of high quality.

Vivekananda Mondal, who is associated with Goodricke, said the first workshop would be held in the group’s Denguajhar Tea Estate, located on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town, on November 29.

At the workshop, growers would be taught scientific methods of pruning of tealeaves, use of manure and fertilisers.

“We will have officials from the tea board and experts of the group to speak at the workshop which, we feel, will be attended by 100-150 growers,” said Mondal.

Five gored by bison, three held

Alipurduar, Nov. 20: Five persons, including three foresters, were gored by two bison in separate incidents at tea gardens in Banarhat today. While one animal died after being tranquillised, the other was killed by residents of the estate.

Three workers of Palasbari Tea Garden were arrested for killing the bison. Police and foresters seized raw and cooked meat from them.

This morning, one bison entered Banarhat Tea Estate, 83km from here. As the foresters shot a dart to tranquillise the animal, it attacked them. Kalyan Mukherjee, the beat officer of the Banarhat range, and two other guards were injured.

The bison was tranquillised later but it died on the way to forest. Manindr a Biswas, conservator of forest, north said: “The animal is known for its weak heart and died because it ran a long distance.”

Mukherjee has been admitted to a nursing home in Siliguri. “Doctors said he has multiple fractures on both hands and legs. He has also suffered a fracture in the pelvic girdle which has led to internal haemorrhage,” Kalyan Das, the divisional forest officer of Jalpaiguri, who accompanied Mukherjee, said.

At Palashbari, 4km from the Banarhat garden, workers spotted a bison about 2pm. The animal injured two workers who have been admitted to a Jalpaiguri hospital. Angry over the attack, the residents chased the bison, which fell in a drain. They then stoned it to death and then chopped it.

In the evening, three workers were picked up. “Raw meat weighing around 3kg and some cooked meat were seized during the raid,” Das said.

Injured rhino

A rhino has been found limping in Gorumara National Park and Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary for the past two days.

Foresters spotted the rhino with injury on the back and blood oozing from the rectum. “We are yet to know the sex of the rhino,” an officer said. “We suspect that it might have fallen prey to forcible mating or infighting or might have been hit by a train while trying to cross the tracks.”

Small growers on Amul mission

Siliguri, Nov. 19: Small tea growers of north Bengal are on a visit to Gujarat to study the success of Amul and replicate the model in their sector.

“We had been toying with the idea to visit Amul to witness the activities right from grassroots to the top level,” Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the Confederation of Small Tea Growers’ Associations of India and a grower of north Bengal, said over phone from Gujarat. “The opportunity finally came and we reached here yesterday to study how milk producers, who form the lowest rung in Amul, could taste success through a concerted effort and planning.”

The three-day visit to Gujarat was organised in association with the National Dairy Development Board.

“Self-help groups are mushrooming in our sector on a regular basis,” said Debasish Pal, another grower from north Bengal in the delegation. “Seeing that more growers are joining, we are contemplating on a plan to reach the consumer directly with our branded tea like what Amul is doing with its versatile range of products.”

The eight-member delegation has members from other tea producing states as well.

“If milk producers can unite, work on an accumulated capital along with financial assistance and take the help of technology to become a model cooperative movement in the country, why cannot the small tea growers, whose number is going up everyday, replicate the process?” Pal asked.

With the research organisations in India busy in working on value added products like specially flavoured tea, tablets, drink, chocolates and biscuits, the growers of the country are keeping their fingers crossed. “In case we take the strategy adopted by founders of Amul and get success, the value added products can be merchandised,” Chakraborty said.

During their visit to Gujarat, the small growers met with officials, milk producers and other stakeholders of Amul. “We witnessed how milk is accumulated and processed to make different products. Also, we got ideas how the producers are paid, what other facilities they enjoy, how the entire chain is maintained,” said a member of the delegation.

Tea workers’ stir worries LF

SILIGURI, Nov. 18: The principal constituents of the West Bengal Left Front today cautioned that growing resentment over a number of issues among the tribal tea plantation labourers might lead to a major law and order problem in north Bengal in near future.

“The portents are ominous. Grievances have been growing among the tribal community principally concentrated in the tea plantations over the continuing deprivation. This unrest being negatively channelised for some time might snowball into a major law and order problem in the region,” said the Darjeeling district RSP, Forward Bloc and CPI leaders.

The RSP Darjeeling district secretary Mr Binay Chakravarty said that the tribal people working in the tea plantation were at the receiving end of the exploitative tactics being adopted by the plantation owners. “The subservient role being played by the Centre and the state government is accentuating the problem. The depth of the apathy to the plight of the workers can be gauged from the fact that the tea plantation related housing board meeting had been held a week ago after a span of a decade. Moreover, there is no drinking water provision in most of the tea plantations in the Darjeeling and the Jalpaiguri districts,” he said.

The FB Darjeeling district secretary Mr Smritish Bhattacharya said that apart from the lack of drinking water provision there is no health centre to cater to the medical requirements of the plantation workers. “Besides, the residential quarters in many plantations are crumbling. This situation, becoming alarming as it is, may spiral out of the control of the administration any time unless the pent up grievances are sincerely addressed,” the FB leader said.

Echoing the apprehension, the CPI Darjeeling district secretary Mr Ujjawal Chowdhury said that mere profiteering inclination on the part of the plantation owners in flagrant violation of the Plantation Labour Act might land the region in problem. “The Centre and the state government should step in immediately to force the owners to take initiatives at bettering the living condition of the workers,” he said.
Asked to comment the CPI-M state committee member Mr Jibesh Sarkar said that the Left Front government had been doing everything to better the living conditions of the plantation workers. “But a state government, given several constraints, cannot go against the socio-economic structure of the country. Nonetheless, the wages have increased many times over the past years because of relentless pressure from the state government on the profit mongering owners. The faulty Central economic policy is responsible for the fast worsening plight of the poor people as a whole,” the CPI-M leader asserted.

Success in closed garden

Siliguri, Nov. 18: Nearly three years after the management had abandoned the closed Sikarpur and Bhandapur Tea Estate, workers find themselves financially sound and are considering running the factory on their own. The success has made them different from their counterparts in the Dooars.

After the management left the garden on January 12, 2006, the 1,550 employees of the estate located in the Rajganj block of Jalpaiguri worked hard to maintain the bushes and augment the tealeaves production which fetched them Rs 16.20 per kilogram from the bought-leaf factories.

“Each one of us agreed that the garden must be saved at any cost for the sustenance of our families,” said Phanindranath Das, a clerk of the estate. “We formed the operating and management committee (OMC) on July 17, 2006 and made every employee understand the need to work together. The overwhelming response from their side has led to today’s success.”

During this period, the workers managed to replant new tea bushes in around 20 hectares and also developed a nursery having one lakh saplings. “We have also made another 10 hectares ready for plantation and on regular basis, take care of each bush by providing manure, fertilisers and pesticides and doing pruning in the lean months. The exercise that took more than two years have started yielding results as we are producing around 10-11 lakh kg tealeaves in a year,” said Samaruddin Ali, a worker.

The workers are assigned with plucking 18kg of tealeaves subject to a minimum of 10kg for which they get Rs 50 per day. Incentives at the rate of Re 1 is paid to them for every kg of extra leaves plucked above 18kg. “Added to this is the financial assistance of Rs 750 that every worker receives from the state government every month and earnings from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,” Ali said.

Today, the workers are financially sound and the OMC also owns a substantial sum in its account.

“Our ultimate aim will be to open the factory and run it on our own,” Jhalo Meher, another worker, said. “The OMC members had approached the district magistrate with a proposal, requesting her to arrange for funds to renovate and open the factory.”

Das said they made a project mentioning the cost of Rs 50.88 lakh and invited her to the garden.

Responding to their call, Bandana Yadav, the district magistrate, visited the garden this afternoon. “I wanted to talk to them and see the estate. It was important to judge the feasibility of the proposal,” she said.

Tea strike put on hold

Siliguri, Nov. 18: An impasse that had been continuing over the last week regarding the storage and sampling of tea sold through the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre (STAC) temporarily ended today. The Siliguri Tea Warehousing Association agreed to suspend its agitation for the time being.

Up to one lakh tea bags, from over 200 gardens, holding 35kg of tea each, are stored in the 28 warehouses in Siliguri. The agitation was over the delay to decide on the new rents that the producers and buyers will have to pay for the storage. The revision, which takes place every two year, was scheduled to be done earlier this year.

However, the new rate decided by the warehouse owners has put the buyers and producers on the back foot. They have been holding their own meetings to reach an amicable rate, which is apparently, the reason for the delay.

“We had been compelled to resort to a partial strike since November 11, a day after a cut-off date had been intimated in writing to STAC for calling a meeting to finally decide on the new rates,” said Sandip Sinhal, secretary of the warehousing association.

Although deliveries taken out from the warehouses by buyers had not been affected, the entry of new lots of tea and the sampling of existing lots had stopped completely because of this delay.

However, based on a request from STAC chairman Gangadhar Agarwal, the warehouse association decided to suspend the agitation till November 24, by which time Agarwal has assured that the revised rate of rental would be agreed upon.

“The tea for Sale 48, which will take place on November 27, has arrived. But that of Sale 49, scheduled for December 4, has partially arrived, while that for Sale 50 on December 11 has not arrived at all,” said Col. (retd) T.B. Subba, STAC secretary.

Two full-fledged meetings, at which all the stakeholders were expected to take part, had already been convened in this month. But, both were inconclusive for want of quorum.

“There appears to be a lack of seriousness on the part of STAC,” said Sinhal.

“We had held a token strike on October 30 and had written a letter before that to STAC’s warehousing advisory body, saying we would resort to an indefinite agitation. But the meeting is yet to be held,” he said.

A prominent tea producer and former STAC chairman S.K. Saria pointed out that the warehouse association has demanded a steep 40 per cent increase in the rental.

“At a time when international recession has hit the demand for tea, this hike will affect producers badly,” he said. “We have still held meetings with the association and some agreement will be reached,” Saria said. “Otherwise, sales through the Calcutta and Guwahati centres will be at an advantage, while north Bengal will suffer.”

Student body found near tea garden

Kurseong, Nov. 13: The body of a 19-year-old boy, who had gone missing on November 9, was found in Dhobitar, 3km from here, this morning.

An empty bottle of apple juice and the covers of Spasmoproxyvon were recovered from near the body of Furtangi Sherpa, a Class X student of St Alphonsus School here.

The boy was a resident of Sherpa Busty, situated above Kurseong.

Furtangi, who had lost his parents, used to live with his uncle Norbu Sherpa, a government employee. Asked whether his nephew had been a drug addict, Norbu said: “We have no knowledge about that.”

He said the boy had gone missing on November 9 and a diary had been filed with the Kurseong police station the next day.

“There was no specific reason for Furtangi to leave the house. We had been searching for him till this morning when we got the news from police that he was found dead,” said Norbu.

A police officer said the body had been spotted first by the workers of nearby Gauri Shankar Tea Estate around 8.30am.

“Initial investigation shows that he had gulped do-wn 48 Spasmoproxyvon tabl-ets with apple juice. The student might have died not less than two days ago. We suspect that he was suffering from depression,” said the officer.

He added that the body had been sent to the Kurse-ong Subdivisional Hospital for post-mortem and any co-mment on the possible cause of the death could be made only after the police received the report on it.

Kurseong subdivisional police officer Rakesh Singh also echoed the official. "Since we have not received the post-mortem report, we don't want to speculate on how the boy died. The investigation is going on,” he said.

The police said there was no injury mark on the body and chances of murder were less.

A case of unnatural death has been registered.

Contacted, the principal of the school, Father Edwards Gurung, said he was unaware of the death.

“Since the school is closed both today and tomorrow because of Morcha strike, we are not aware of the death of any student. I am not able to identify the boy by his name. Whatever has happened is sad for us and his family,” said Gurung over the phone from Siliguri.

Rally for peace in hills and plains

Siliguri, Nov. 7: Thousands of tea garden workers turned up at a rally organised by the Intuc to showcase hills-plains unity in the context of the ongoing agitation for a separate state.

The rally that started from Sukna railway station, 7km from here, around 12.30pm, saw the participation of labourers from different tea plantations in the Terai, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Panighata. Before the workers started marching, a small cultural programme was held in front of the station where members of the Bharatiya Gorkha Bhutpurba Sainik Morcha, the ex-servicemen wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, were present.

“Such an initiative is always welcome as it will help maintain peace and harmony in the region. We are happy to be part of this kind of programmes,” said Surendra Pradhan, the Siliguri zonal secretary of the Sainik Morcha.

The rally by the labour wing of the Congress ended at Siliguri Court complex at 3.30pm, after covering a distance of about 10km.

Aloke Chakraborty, the district president of the Intuc, slammed the Bengal government for the present turmoil in the region.

“Because of the wrong policy of the state government, the hills and plains are witnessing movements and counter-movements, vitiating the atmosphere. We apprehend that such agitations will not only hamper the unity of the region but also affect the tea sector which provides jobs to people of different communities,” he said.

Chakraborty said the rally had been organised in a bid to maintain the peace that had been restored after the recent visit of the governor, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

The Intuc leader, along with other leaders, later submitted a memorandum, addressed to the governor, to Siliguri additional district magistrate. They have sought Gandhi’s intervention to find a permanent solution to the problems plaguing the region.

Many Congress leaders, including the district president, Shankar Malakar, were conspicuous by their absence from the rally. “It was not necessary for me and other district leaders to attend a march organised by the party’s labour wing,” said Malakar.

Small growers on saving spree for tea factory

Siliguri, Nov. 5: A group of small tea growers of Jalpaiguri is contemplating setting up a factory by 2010 by saving Re 1 from every kg of tealeaves sold.

The 300-plus members of the Panbari Small Tea Growers’ Society in Jalpaiguri’s Mainaguri block have been mobilising funds for the past one year for the factory which they claim will be the first of its kind in the country.

The society has recently been identified as a model self-help group by the Tea Board of India. Small growers are spread over four tea producing states of Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“The members of the society have agreed to keep aside Re 1 for every kg of tealeaves sold by them. As their annual sale is around 18-20 lakh kg, they can garner Rs 40-60 lakh by 2010,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “An investment of Rs 1.50 crore is necessary to set up the factory if the tealeaves produced by them need to be processed in the plant.”

While the society members will contribute to the factory, they will also ask for subsidy from the tea board for building the plant. “We are also taking up the matter with Nabard for additional funds,” Chakraborty said.

The society has 317 members with the plantation spread across 800 acres, which is almost the area of a tea estate. Recently, the members have purchased a plot of five bighas in the area for constructing the factory.

“The factory will be the first in India to be set up by small growers,” said Badal Debnath, a society member.

Tea board officials are keen to see the factory coming up at Panbari. “The society members are doing excellent work but it will definitely take some time for them to assimilate the funds. We cannot fund the entire project because of some limitations,” G. Boriah, the director (tea development) of the board, told The Telegraph from Calcutta today.

“Once the factory comes up, we will encourage more such plants to help small growers process their tealeaves,” Boriah said.

The board has decided to open small growers’ cells in all tea producing states in the country. The ones in Jalpaiguri and Dibrugarh will be opened soon, he added.

“These offices will take care of the small growers. The Union commerce and industry ministry has sanctioned 11 posts for them.”

Tea prices come down by Rs 6 in Siliguri - Global financial crisis hits brew sector

Siliguri, Nov. 4: Tea prices have plummeted in north Bengal after they reached close to Rs 100 a kg. There has been a sharp fall of Rs 6-7 per kg at the auctions held here at the end of last month and according to the stakeholders, the global financial meltdown is to blame for the crash.

After nearly one decade of slump when the price had come down to as low as Rs 54 per kg in the region, the commodity had been fetching a higher amount since the beginning of this year. The rise in the price had been a major relief for the brew belt.

“Since March 2008, the sector had been doing well. The prices started rising after many years and we were feeling a bit relieved that the financial distress faced by those associated with the sector would somehow be eased,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of Indian Tea Association.

“However, the sharp fall we have witnessed in the past couple of auctions held in Siliguri and at other centres in Calcutta and Guwahati have left us contemplative,” he said.

Bhattacharjee added that the present global recession had led to a liquidity crisis, thereby affecting tea sales across India. “As the demand came down, the prices started nose-diving and I don’t see any other reason for the fall.”

According to the statistics available with the Tea Board of India, the average price at the auctions held from January to September this year in Calcutta was Rs 101 against Rs 82.36 during the corresponding period in 2007. In Guwahati, the brew was sold at Rs 88.86 in the same period this year. In 2007, the price was Rs 68.06.

At Siliguri auction centre, the figures were Rs 64.92 for 2007 and Rs 82.95 this year. The average price of tea reached Rs 92.07 from Rs 72.63 last year in north India. In south India, the average price during January-September this year was Rs 63.56, higher than Rs 50.34 in 2007. The-all India average auction price also crossed the Rs 80-mark. It was Rs 82.76 this year, an increase of Rs 16 from Rs 66.53 in 2007.

“Everything was fine till mid-October, but following the depression experienced by the global economy, importers could not supply more tea in international markets. This brought down the prices,” said K.K. Mintri, a planter of north Bengal. “It is not only CTC tea but the Darjeeling variety has also suffered a setback to some extent. As far as I understand, other tea producing countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, which bank mainly on exports, are also facing the similar situation.”

Mintri said if the prices continued to come down, it would become tough for planters to meet expenditures like workers’ wages which had been revised recently.

Intuc rally on hill awareness

Siliguri, Nov.3: The Intuc will organise a rally on Friday to create an awareness among tea garden workers on the prevailing situation in the hills and the plains keeping in mind the Gorkhaland agitation.

The rally by the labour wing of the Congress will begin at the Sukna station and culminate at Court More here after travelling 7km.

Aloke Chakraborty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc, said: “I don’t want to comment on the movement demanding separate statehood because the dialogues are going on between the central and state government. But the movement and counter movements will not only hamper the peace and amity between the people of hills and plains, but will also affect tea garden workers of the Terai and the Dooars where the employees of different communities are working together,” he said

Thousands of tea workers from Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong subdivisions and those from the plains will participate in the rally. “We will also welcome members from other trade unions,” Chakraborty said.

At the Sukna station, a short cultural programme of the Adivasis, Nepali and Bengali folk dances will be performed before the rally begins.

The participants in the rally will carry a white flag symbolising peace. “The flag will be handed over to members of the Congress Sevadal and the Chhatra Parishad at Pintail Village who will carry it till Darjeeling More. There, the district Youth Congress members will receive the flag and will take it to Court More,” Chakraborty said.

After the rally, the Intuc members will submit a memorandum addressed to the governor through the additional district magistrate in Siliguri.

“During the agitation by the GNLF in late eighties, we had organised a similar rally titled Pahar theke Sagor which was successful. We hope that the Friday’s rally will also be fruitful,” the Intuc leader said. “Similar programmes will also be organised across the region to bring peace and harmony,” he added.

Garden opens but doubts brew

Alipurduar, Nov. 2: The management of Mujnai Tea Estate has alleged that the workers have sold at least 30,000kg of tealeaves in four days despite an agreement on October 27 that plucking would be stopped the next day.

Although the garden in Madarihat reopened yesterday after 11months, the excitement usually seen among workers when an estate resumes operation was absent.

“The labourers apprehend that the management will once again abandon the estate. If it closes down, we will again have to wait for one year for the operations and maintenance committee (OMC) to take charge. Anyway, we will co-operate with the management,” said Ashish Biswas, a worker of the estate located 60km from here.

When a garden closes down, the government appoints OMCs which look after the estate, helping them pluck leaves and finding buyers for them. The sales proceeds are distributed among the workers.

In the past six years, the workers alleged that the management had abandoned the garden at least four times.

The owners, too, did not sound much hopeful.

N.N. Chakroborty, a senior adviser to Anjuman Tea Company Limited that owns Mujnai, said: “We expected to get a yield of at least 1 lakh kg of green leaves, but we are left with around 30,000kg only.”

“The trade union leaders had assured us at a meeting on October 27 that plucking would be stopped the next day. But that did not happen. Instead 10,000kg of leaves were taken away in a single day. One can imagine the amount for four days. The buyers of these leaves do not want the gardens to open and so the problems of closed estates never get solved,” said Chakroborty, who fears a crisis in the cropping season as well.

“Shade trees in more than 400 acres have been chopped. Some workers have even occupied the residences of assistant managers and staff,” he said.

The adviser to the company said during the period when the garden was closed, the workers sold tealeaves at Rs 7 per kg, while the market rate was not less than Rs 14.

The garden had been closed from April 2002 to October 2004 and from November 2005 to January 2006.

It again stopped operations in May 2007 for a month. It shut down again in November 2007 and reopened yesterday.

The estate has a workforce of 999. The company owes them Rs 1.50 crore in PF, Rs 30 lakh in gratuity and Rs 36 lakh in bonus. The wages of four weeks and ration of 11 months are also pending. The wages for October 2007 were given yesterday.

The factory was swept clean and so was the hospital, but there was nobody to decorate the offices, a practice among workers when a garden reopens. Nor was the management welcomed with flowers, another prevalent practice.

Terror leopard trapped

Jaigaon, Nov. 2: An adult male leopard that created panic in the Bhagatpur tea garden for more than three months was caught in a trap baited with a goat laid by the forest department.

The eight-year-old leopard, the second trapped in 38 days at the garden in Nagrakata, was later released at Gorumara National Park, 4km away.

Punia Lohar, a worker, was among the first to spot the leopard around 5.30am today, banging the cage trying to seek a way out. He informed the garden manager, J.K. Kaul, who got in touch with the forest range office at Khunia.

“The leopard that was caught today and the earlier one of around nine-year-old which was trapped on September 24 have been creating panic in the garden for the past three months. We had informed the foresters who had laid the trap in Section 19 of the estate 15 days ago,” Kaul said.

The manager said the big cats had been preying on the poultry and livestock that the garden workers owned. “Our daily plucking rate came down as the workers were scared of the attack by the leopards.”

Asha Oraon, another worker, echoed the manager. “Although the leopard had not attacked anyone of us, but the animal was taking away our goats and chicken,” she said.

Around 8am, the forest employees arrived and took the big cat (in picture by Biplab Basak) away in a tractor-trailer provided by the garden authorities.

“The leopard was released in Gorumara in the afternoon. The earlier one which was trapped on September 24 was also set free there,” said Nripendranath Saha, the range officer of Khunia.

2 held for branding worker witch

Siliguri, Nov. 2: Two persons of Bani Tea Estate in Ambari-Falakata were arrested for branding a co-worker of the garden a witch and creating a commotion in the area.

Lachhu Oraon (55) and Dipak Munda (48) were today produced in the court of the Jalpaiguri Sadar sub-divisional officer, Atanu Roy. “I asked them to produce a bond with a surety from a responsible person for their release. But when they failed to do so, I booked them under Section 107 CrPC (preventive measure for maintaining peace) and remanded them in judicial custody for two days,” Roy said.

The woman, Bhudni Oraon (50), who was also produced in court, was released after her version was recorded. She was detained for being a party to the commotion.

Yesterday, police at the Ambari-Falakata outpost had received a complaint from residents of Bairivita-Gudiaganj village next to the tea estate, about 40km from Jalpaiguri, where the three workers live.

According to the complaint, Lachhu and Dipak, who had been threatening Bhudni since the Kali Puja night, had raided her house, blaming her for the spate of fever and sickness that the villagers were going through recently. They dragged her out from her house and tied her to a tree.

The woman shouted out in protest, denying the duo’s charges, and the exchange led to a commotion in the area, the police said.

A similar incident had happened on the night of Kali Puja also. “The two had gone to Bhudni’s house in a drunken state and assaulted her, accusing her of being a witch and the reason behind so many people falling sick,” a villager said. They even threatened to kill her.

Bhudni, a widow for the last three years with a 20-year-old daughter, approached the garden authorities to save her.

At the court today, Dipak admitted to have raided the woman’s house on the night of Kali Puja. “An argument started during which we called her a witch. We had told her that she would be killed,” he said before being taken away to custody.

The subdivisional officer said he had taken up the case based on the police report and awarded the remand on the basis of the confessions by the accused.

Tea tourism put to sleep

Siliguri, Oct. 30: Five years have passed since the government proposed tea tourism as an alternative means of income for the brew sector, but not a single project has been sanctioned till date.

“We had sent four proposals to upgrade existing infrastructure in the gardens — for example renovation of bungalows — to start tourism, but none of them were considered,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.

“The delay comes at a time when inflow of tourists is increasing in the Dooars and private resorts are mushrooming at locations like Lataguri and Jayanti.”

In 2003, when the tea industry was facing a slump, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had announced the government’s tea tourism policy at Central Dooars Club in Binnaguri.

He had then said the planters could go in for tourism projects by using available resources like employees and bungalows.

Bhattacharjee had also announced that the government would upgrade the roads leading to the tea estates — many of them located in idyllic locations.

“But the objection raised by the state land and land reforms department for using land, which had been leased to tea gardens, for other (tourism) purposes created the hurdle,” Bhattacharjee said. “We were told to earmark land necessary to create the infrastructure for tourism projects in the garden, surrender it to the department and obtain a fresh lease on it.”

With the Dooars emerging as a potential tourist destination, several tea companies are interested in launching tourism projects.

“It is time the government cleared the proposals which will not only be beneficial to us, but also for other sectors like transport, which will be indirectly associated with the projects. The government, too, will earn revenue if the tourism projects are implemented,” a planter said.

The planters also highlighted the deplorable road condition as another major impediment to the growth of tourism. “Given the pathetic state of the roads, we doubt whether any tourist will recommend the area to others,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

The problems, the planters said, have been brought to the notice of Subrata Gupta, the managing director of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, during his visit here this week.

“We will take up these problems with the tourism department at an appropriate platform,” Gupta said.

Manohar Tirkey, the minister of state for public works, however, said more funds had been sought from the Centre to repair NH31 that passed through the Dooars. “Work is expected to start soon.”

Small tea growers want more BLFs in north Bengal

SILIGURI, Oct. 29: The small tea growers of north Bengal have demanded an immediate annulment of the state government's prohibitory order on setting up of new Brought Leaf Factories (BLF) in the region.

According to the small tea growers, the absence of ‘adequate’ number of BLF's was hitting the small gardens across the region, as many a times there are no takers of the green leaves produced.

“In the past seven years, there have been a considerable rise in the number of small tea growers across north Bengal, while the prohibition on setting up new BLFs since 2001 is preventing the corresponding increase in the number Brought Leaf Factories over here.

As a result of this, the supply of green leaves is higher than what the existing BLFs can absorb. Hence, the small growers are fetching a lesser price for their produce,” said Mr Sanjit Paul, convener of the Small Tea Gardens Forum (STGF) affiliated to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association (ITPA).

As per the figures provided by him, early this month a kg of green leaves was fetching something around Rs 5.50 to Rs 6, which has now risen a little higher to Rs 8.50 per kg.

“Considering the higher price that ‘made tea’ is fetching in the auctions this season, these prices are very low. Unless the state government permits more BLFs to come up, the small growers will continue to be exploited,” Mr Paul said.
The Small Tea Gardens Forum has recently sent a memorandum to the principal secretary of the state commerce and industries department urging the annulment of the prohibitory order on the establishment of new BLFs in the region.

The bar on new BLFs was promulgated to ensure that the existing BLFs and tea estates would run as per their capacity. As of now, there are nearly 78 BLFs in north Bengal as opposed to the 15,000 small tea growers across the region.

Chamurchi may reopen soon

Siliguri, Oct. 29: Seven years after it was shut down, Chamurchi Tea Estate near Banarhat in the Dooars is showing signs of reopening.

Another closed garden in the region, Mujnai Tea Estate, will reopen on November 1.

“Om Prakash Mal, a known face in the jute industry of the state, had agreed to take over Chamurchi from the old owner last year,” N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association (ITPA), said today. “Finally, he has decided to reopen the garden and has arranged a meeting on November 6 in Calcutta.”

Trade union leaders, representatives from the ITPA and other stakeholders of the tea industry will be present at the meeting to be held at the additional state labour commissioner’s office.

“The date of reopening will be fixed after discussing the payment of liabilities like the workers’ dues, the status of factory and the plantations,” Basu said.

But before the meeting, the trade union leaders and the planters will sit in Calcutta on November 4 and 5 to discuss the revision of salaries of the workers in the estates, a union leader said.

During the past seven years, the workers and their families in the garden solely depended on the proceeds of tealeaves which they usually sell to nearby estates and to some bought-leaf factories.

“We could not see any hope as the owner did not respond to our repeated requests and reminders from the government,” Raso Mahali, one of the 846 workers in the garden, said referring to Sushila Kejriwal, the director of Chamurchi Agro (India) Ltd, the previous owner of the garden. “It is nice to hear now that a new owner is interested in reopening the garden. We are eagerly waiting to see the factory start again.”

Decomposed leopard carcass found in garden

Siliguri, Oct. 24: Workers of Kurti Tea Estate in Nagrakata found the decomposed carcass of an eight-year-old male leopard this morning.

Around 8.30am, the pluckers spotted the carcass covered with mites, ants and insects in Section 19 of the estate and informed the garden management.

“Immediately, I rang up police and foresters, informing them of the incident,” said R.K. Rungta, the manager. “Those who saw the carcass said it seems to have died seven to 10 days ago.”

Ram Majhi, the worker who first saw the body, said they had not plucked tealeaves in the section for the past 10 days or so. “We suspect that the leopard might have died during the period.”

The foresters could not specify the reason for the death. The life expectancy of a leopard is 15 to 20 years.

“I have seen the body and primarily feel that it might have died a natural death,” Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer (wildlife-II), said. “However, we are not ruling out any other reason which will be clear only after the post-mortem is conducted at Gorumara National Park.”

Over the past few years, leopard deaths have become frequent in north Bengal. On October 19, a big cat was found run over on the tracks along the Diana tea garden. The animal was around 9 to 10 years old. Another male leopard was found dead on the tracks at Sonagachi in September.

“Leopard population has been increasing in the country, but our concern is that their deaths have become frequent now,” said Animesh Bose, the founder coordinator of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.

Assault slur on jawans

Jaigaon, Oct. 21: Residents of Central Dooars Tea Garden in Kalchini today alleged that the SSB jawans had beaten up many of them and ransacked their quarters.

The SSB has denied the charge.

Bikram Subedi, a resident, said he had been hit on the head and his leg had been broken by the SSB. “The jawans had dragged me out of my house and ransacked the room and broke the television set,” said Subedi who was under treatment at the Kalchini block health centre. He was later referred to the subdivisional hospital in Alipurduar.

A woman worker of the garden, Dalmaya Kajir, has got a similar complaint. “The jawans broke into my quarters when I was away and ransacked my house for no reason.”

Tension had been brewing since last Sunday when the border guards stopped three jeeps carrying players and supporters who were going to the garden for a football match.

“They stopped the vehicles on the pretext that they were over-loaded and picked up an argument.Suddenly the personnel started beating us up with lathis,” said Samir Thapa, a worker who was part of the football team.

This morning, a group of garden residents went to the SSB camp to settle the matter. But the jawans allegedly beat them up. The personnel then came to the garden and attacked them. “Deokumar Thapa, Biswaranjan Kanji, both workers of the garden, and Kamal Sharma, an ex-serviceman, were assaulted by the jawans,” a worker said. “The second shift of workers did not report for duty because of the tension in the garden.”

The officer-in-charge of the Kalchini police station, R. Chhetri, later inspected the garden with his team and received a complaint from the workers.

B. B. Gurung, the commandant of the 30th Battalion of the SSB, however, denied the charge.

“On Sunday, our jawans asked the three drivers of the vehicles which were overloaded where they were going. The garden residents then abused us. In the evening, about 500 people came to the camp and attacked us. One of the workers Bikram Subedi threw stone at a jawan, injuring him seriously. The injured has been admitted to the air force hospital at Hasimara,” Gurung said.

The additional police superintendent of Alipurduar, S. R. Mishra, said steps would be taken on the basis of the complaint.

July 1 meet for wage revision

Siliguri, June 20: Tea garden workers have insisted on major changes in the existing wage structure and mode of payment, which includes a hike of almost 100 per cent.

In their 18-point charter placed before the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations, an organisation of planters, and the Bengal government, trade unions in the tea industry have insisted on conversion of the daily wage system to monthly payments for permanent workers.

The Bengal labour department has invited planters and trade union leaders to discuss the revision of wages and salaries of more than three lakh tea workers at a tripartite meeting in Calcutta on July 1.

The last three-year-old agreement expired on March 31 this year.

Leaders of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, an apex body representing trade unions like the Citu, Intuc and Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union, will be present at the meeting.

“Unlike the Rs 53.90 paid to field workers and Rs 58.40 to factory workers on a daily basis after a week or a fortnight, we want them to get monthly salaries,” said Chitta Dey, convener of the Coordination Committee. “The minimum monthly salaries that we have proposed are Rs 3,120 and Rs 3,400 for field and factory workers respectively.”

For temporary workers, who also earn Rs 53.90 a day, trade unions have proposed a hike of Rs 120 per day for field workers and Rs 130 in factories.

The other demands include revised pay scales for technicians, clerical and medical staff. “Those who need to operate computers or are in hazardous jobs should be given an allowance of 25 per cent on their salaries. Plus a variable dearness allowance at the rate of one per cent per point of rise in the All India Consumer Price Index should be paid to the workers,” Dey said. “We also suggested promotion of women, who are mostly pluckers, to supervisory posts.”

Darjeeling strike fills Assam teapot

Calcutta, June 19: Darjeeling’s loss is Assam’s gain — and Calcutta’s pride.

Calcutta airport clocked its largest single consignment of tea when 48 tonnes were loaded into a Singapore Airlines cargo carrier today.

But the tea was from Assam, not Darjeeling, because the indefinite bandh for Gorkhaland has choked supplies from the hills and stepped up demand for the beverage from the northeastern state. Chests carrying more than a million kg of tea are said to have piled up in the warehouses of Darjeeling gardens following the strike.

“Today’s consignment is going to London through Amsterdam. The export order was received by us at a short notice of five days,” said Amin Khan, manager, eastern India, Singapore Airlines cargo division.

Usually, orders are given a month in advance and big consignments weigh around four tonnes, Khan said. Yesterday, a 6-tonne consignment was sent to Melbourne by the airline.

Cargo officials at the airport, too, said more Assam tea had been passing through the airport in recent days. Excluding today’s consignment, around 30 tonnes of Assam tea have been carried by different airlines out of the city over the past 10 days, they said.

“Under normal circumstances, the amount would have been half,” an official said.

Since June 10, not a single tonne of Darjeeling tea has been exported through Calcutta airport or port because of the disruptions caused by the agitation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

“There has been a definite increase in the demand for Assam tea. However, we don’t want the tea export in Darjeeling to suffer,” said Pradyut Bordoloi, the industries and power minister of Assam.

Assam produces around 450 million kg of tea every year, out of which 20 per cent is exported, Bordoloi said. The state earns around Rs 1,000 crore from exporting tea.

In Darjeeling, the annual production is 10-11 million kg, of which 70 per cent is exported to meet the huge demand in the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and other developed countries.

Assam’s premium quality tea costs around Rs 200 a kg in the international markets, compared to Rs 800-1000 for the second flush Darjeeling Tea.

“The demand for Assam tea has increased over the last two weeks. We are getting SOS calls from exporters to urgently fly consignments to Europe,” said Abhijit Biswas, business unit head, eastern India, Panalpina World Transport, a multinational freight forwarding company which handled the 48-tonne consignment.

“The importers’ problems overseas have increased by the insignificant movement of Darjeeling Tea. Kenya, which has a substantial market in the UK, has lowered output. So blenders need a substitute,” said Sujit Patra, joint secretary, the Indian Tea Association (ITA).

Although the bandh enforcers had promised smooth operation for tea gardens, it has not been so. “Since all banks are closed, no wages can be paid to the workers and production is stalled,” said Basudeb Banerjee, chairman, Tea Board of India. “The supply of Darjeeling Tea has been severely affected and dispatch is entirely closed. The condition has become worse.”

Darjeeling unrest poops tea party

Calcutta, June 15: Calcutta’s port and airport have not exported tea for the past five days, the hills unrest preventing cons-ignments worth around Rs 7-10 crore from reaching the city.

“This is the second flush season, when we get the best-quality Darjeeling tea. If the situation doesn’t improve we may lose export markets,” said Aditya Khaitan, chairman of the Indian Tea Association, the apex body of tea companies.

A brief spell of showers in May kicks off the second flush season, after the first flush has ended in late April. As monsoon sets in well and proper, tea quality deteriorates and fetches lower prices.

Although the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which called an indefinite bandh last Monday, relaxed it from Thursday, the truckers who ferry tea from the gardens to Calcutta aren’t prepared to take chances, traders said.

Production too has been hampered with workers often unable to report for work although tea gardens are exempt from the bandh, which resumes from 6pm on June 16.

“The bandh and unrest have affected both production and exports, because of low worker and staff attendance and transport problems,” Khaitan said.

Arvind Nevatia of Chamong Tea, which owns the highest number of tea gardens in the region, said the bandh had hit planters, traders, exporters and even the airlines and shipping companies that transport tea outside India.

“The losses can run into several hundred crores. This is because the tea companies have entered into forward contracts with other countries,” he said.

The smaller tea growers are suffering too, prevented by the unrest from sending their plucked leaves to bought-leaf factories or the bigger gardens that have their own factories. So they are forced to sell at reduced prices to factories outside the area earmarked as “Gorkhaland”, with whom they don’t have tie-ups.

Sources said these gardens were selling at Rs 8-8.50 a kg, down from the Rs 10-10.50 a kg at the beginning of the season.

Calcutta airport exported its last loads of tea on Tuesday. These had arrived before the bandh. “Since then, nothing. All bookings have been cancelled,” said Amin Khan, manager, east, Singapore Airlines cargo division.

Other carriers too have suffered huge losses, international cargo department officials at the airport said.

A 100-tonne consignment of Darjeeling tea, scheduled for London, has been deferred, an Emirates airline official said. Of this, 48kg was to arrive at the airport this week. “We are worried,” the official said.

Darjeeling produces about one million kilos of tea in June, the average price being Rs 800-1,000 a kg. Tea worth Rs 2 crore is exported every day and a day’s loss in production costs the planters Rs 3.33 crore.

The annual production is 10-11 million kg, of which 70 per cent is exported to meet the huge demand in the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and other developed countries.

Darjeeling accounts for 7-8 per cent of the Rs 1,800-2,000 crore India earns from tea export per year. One kilo of second-flush Darjeeling tea can fetch up to Rs 8,000 in the international market.

“Most of the superior-quality tea is exported. It is unfortunate that at a time we are trying to increase exports — Darjeeling being the flagship brand — such disruptions have taken place,” said Basudeb Banerjee, chairman, Tea Board of India.

Expert tips for Darjeeling Tea

Kalimpong, June 3: The vice-chancellor of Sikkim Central University, Mahendra P. Lama, has suggested a seven-pronged strategy to turn around the fortunes of the tea industry in the Darjeeling hills and make it more labour-centric.

Addressing members of the Hill Employees’ Association here today, Lama, who is an expert on South Asian economy, said production of the famed Darjeeling Tea has come down from 15 million tonnes to around 6-7 million tonnes.

“Surely, the fault must lie somewhere; either with the owners or the trade unions,” the vice-chancellor said.

Lama suggested a seven-point programme starting with worker empowerment by giving them shares. “The most expensive tea is from Darjeeling and the poorest workers in the world are also from Darjeeling. How can that happen?” he asked.

Lama said it must be made mandatory for owners to run their estates for at least 10 years to provide continuity and maximise output, besides carrying out a sustained re-plantation programme in the gardens. “Most (tea) bushes in Darjeeling are over 150 years old. And bushes between 25 and 40 years give the best tea,” he added.

The vice-chancellor said setting up of tea auction centre in Darjeeling was a must to ensure transparency in transaction.

Adopting organic methods of plantation and integrating tea with tourism would also go a long way in reviving the industry, Lama said.

During his speech, which lasted over an hour, Lama touched upon a wide range of issues, including the renewed demand for Gorkhaland.

The academician who hails from Darjeeling clarified at the outset that he had no links with political parties, but added that the journey of life would be incomplete if individuals did not fight for their rights.

Calling the movement for a separate state the final fight, he advocated a multi-pronged strategy with a strong intellectual content to achieve it. Lama also stressed on the right leadership to make the movement effective and took potshots at the GNLF for misleading the people for over two decades.

The Hill Employees’ Association was celebrating its 22nd foundation day as Ekta Diwas following the recent merger of its two factions.

Harrods happy with valley tea

Darjeeling, May 28: From court cases and crores in dues to a tie-up with the best-known department store in the world — Happy Valley Tea Estate has turned its fortune around in just two years.

Today, the tea garden earmarked a portion of its plantation for exclusively supplying handcrafted Darjeeling Tea to the Knightsbridge Store of Harrods in the UK.

Sanjay Bansal, the proprietor of Happy Valley, said: “We will sell the exclusive handcrafted tea from a special one-acre section of our plantation, known as Snowfields, to Harrods. The very fact that they are willing to take our tea gives us the stamp of high quality as Harrods has the strictest standard in quality control mechanism.”

Representatives of Harrods today visited the garden in Darjeeling and tasted eight handcrafted varieties of tea named Special While, Cloud White, Imperial White, Golden Snowflakes, Silver Snowflakes, Snow Mist, Snow Pearls and Millennium.

“We prefer second flush as the first flush has a shorter shelf life,” said one of the representatives, H. Rahman.

Handcrafted teas are made of one bud and leaf instead of two leaves and a bud, withered and hand-rolled into shape before they are dried. Every batch of the product is expected to have a different flavour and characteristics. “The production cost of handcrafted tea is almost 10-20 times the normal cost. Wastage is also very high (because everything is done by hand) but the teas fetch good prices,” said Bansal.

Normal production cost of Darjeeling Tea is around Rs 250 a kg.

The garden hopes to produce about 200kg of each of the handcrafted teas this year along with 30 tonnes of normal teas.

The Knightsbridge Store of Harrods was set up in 1849 — five years before Happy Valley came into existence — and always had “a special interests in tea”. “We have tie-ups with almost 22 gardens in Darjeeling, but we are looking to take handcrafted teas from Happy Valley,” said Rahman. Harrods already sells different varieties of tea from the hills, like Opulence Darjeeling Okayti Treasure and Darjeeling Castleton Muscetal Tea.

The department store has not specified how much handcrafted tea it will import from Happy Valley, but is expected to take about 40,000kg of Darjeeling Tea a year from the various gardens in the hills.

Harrods will also market the product in Japan. The produce from Happy Valley is also likely to feature in a month-long publicity campaign that Harrods will launch in London from September 1.

“We are extremely happy in tying up with Harrods as it has huge brand equity and the visibility of our brand will also be enormous. We are looking for a tie-up with Harrods whereby its niche customers can come and stay at our garden where tea tourism is expected to come up soon,” said Bansal, who is also the chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

Bansal has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of Happy Valley after buying it in 2006. Before that, for nearly a decade, the garden had been declared “sick”. It ran up around Rs 2 crore in dues and got embroiled in more than 50 court cases.

"Happy Valley has come a long way since then. As production is low in this garden, we have decided to go for exclusive products so that Happy Valley can be made viable,” said Bansal.

Tea cost study to frame policies

Siliguri, May 27: A five-member team from the Calcutta-based Institute of Cost & Works Accountants of India (ICWAI) is in north Bengal now to assess the cost involved in the cultivation of tealeaves and the production of made tea.

“Assessing the costs incurred by the stakeholders of tea industry is essential while deciding on policies and schemes,” said Amal Roy Choudhury, the deputy director (plantations) of the Tea Board of India. “The team is here to determine separately the costs of production in the Terai, Dooars, and Darjeeling.”

The cost determination exercise was earlier conducted in 2003. The report was taken into consideration by the Union commerce and industry ministry, which, through the tea board, finalised the price sharing formula among small growers and bought-leaf factories (BLFs).

Led by A. K. Kar, the chief executive officer (accounts technician), the team went to Jalpaiguri today and met small tea growers.

“We hand over questionnaires to the stakeholders and explain to them about the contents,” Kar said over the phone from Jalpaiguri. “They need to fill them up with information pertinent to the costs. These include financial data, age of tea bushes in plantations and the productivity of workers.”

“We will determine the costs of producing tealeaves in small plantations and estates and the manufacturing cost incurred by bought-leaf factories (BLFs) and estates in this region,” said the ICWAI official.

The task has already been completed in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and the ICWAI’s next destination is Assam.

“Given the nature of information we need, it is not possible for the stakeholders to provide the data immediately,” said Kar. “We are now concentrating on distributing the questionnaires and will be back after a fortnight or so to collect them. Correspondences would be made with companies to obtain information on estates.”

The data, experts said, can be of use by the government when it executes proposals and plans. If the centre mulls over the proposal of the planters to share the social costs, the data will be considered, they said.

Flavoured brew soon

The Tea Research Association (TRA) is trying to develop different kinds of the beverage in a bid to augment its consumption.

Mridul Hazarika, director of the TRA, said the association was carrying out research on the diversification of the produce.

Talking to The Telegraph over phone from Jorhat in Assam, Hazarika said the attempt was to attract the younger generation to the brew and ultimately, increase consumption.

“Unlike other kinds of tea, to which flavours are added, we are planning to develop tealeaves containing flavours of spearmint, peppermint, ginger and pepper,” said a researcher.

The TRA, as a part of its diversification plans, has so far succeeded in making tea-based items like biscuits, tablets and even wine.

“The research on mixing tea with other products that are preferred and largely consumed by the new generation will continue,” said Hazarika. “We need to be innovative to create products that are compatible with its taste.”

Although he refused to be more specific, sources said potato chips and other snacks could be the next products the TRA would bring out.

In another development, the TRA researchers in north Bengal have started working on improving the quality of the beverage produced in the region. The project is being funded by the National Tea Research Foundation.

“We have identified six tea gardens, two each in the Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling. Our team will compare the quality of tea produced in these gardens and try to ascertain the factors that are making the difference in quality,” Pradip Ghosh, the chief advisory officer of the TRA sub-station in Nagrakata, said.

“A comprehensive research would be conducted by checking the plantations, clones of tea bushes, fertilisers used, the manufacturing process and other relevant factors that determine the quality of tea produced in an estate,” Ghosh added.

Gaur dies after chase

Alipurduar, May 26: A gaur from the Diana forest died today while being chased out of Chengmari Tea Estate by a group of workers. Foresters hinted that the animal’s heart probably gave away.

In another development, the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Calcutta has said the blood slides of the female elephant that died in the Kalimpong forest division on May 18 did not contain anthrax, putting to rest fears of an outbreak.

This morning, two gaur, or Indian bison, entered the Chengmari garden in Nagrakata from the adjacent Diana forest. When they were spotted near the labour lines, the workers tried to chase them out of the estate.

“Suddenly, one of the gaur slumped to the ground and died,” said Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer of wildlife-II, who went to the garden later. He said the animals did not gore anyone.

“We will conduct a post-mortem to find out the cause of death, but usually, the gaur has a very weak heart and when the workers chased the animal it ran around aimlessly. That could have caused its death,” Das said.

About the negative anthrax report, S.S. Bist, the chief wildlife warden of Bengal, told The Telegraph from Calcutta: “Today, we have received the result of the tests conducted on the blood slides (of the dead elephant) sent to the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. The report says that there is no anthrax in the sample. A thorough screening of wild and domesticated animals in the area did not reveal any outbreak either. We are relieved that the local reports that said the elephant might have died of anthrax have been proved wrong.”

After the adult elephant was found dead in the Noam range, foresters had conducted a thorough search within a 5km radius of the area, including fringe villages, for signs of an anthrax outbreak.

‘Bad-year’ fund for small tea

Siliguri, May 25: The Union ministry of commerce and industries has created a fund to compensate small growers of tea, coffee, rubber and tobacco for crop loss and low prices.

The Price Stabilisation Fund Trust, formed by the ministry, has also floated accidental insurance cover for the small growers and their workers.

Small growers are those with plantation area of not more than four hectares.

“A corpus of Rs 500 crore has been created by the Centre for this purpose,” Amit Chatterjee, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Trust posted in Delhi, told The Telegraph here. “Small growers will be paid compensation in bad years, when prices are low.”

The Trust will ascertain good, bad or normal year on the basis of average domestic price of Indian CTC tea vis-à-vis the price it fetches in international markets.

“The average domestic price should be plus or minus 20 per cent of the average international price,” the CEO said. “Lower than 20 per cent will mean a bad year, within the lower and upper limits, normal and more than 20 per cent, good.”

For example, in 2006, the average international price of CTC tea was Rs 64.02 a kg. The average domestic price, on the other hand, was Rs 63.62/kg, which means it was a normal year.

“Growers need to join the scheme by opening a savings account in a bank with a contribution of Rs 500. In a bad year, we will deposit Rs 1,000 as compensation. In a normal year, the grower and we will contribute Rs 500 each and in a good year, the grower alone will deposit Rs 1,000. The amount can be withdrawn only in a bad year,” Chatterjee said.

The Centre also plans to help growers by insuring their crop and will pay them the average price of the total yield of their plantation plus 20 per cent as compensation if they suffer crop loss because of inclement weather, pest attack or for some other reasons.

During his visit here, the CEO briefed small tea growers on the Trust’s accidental insurance scheme.

“A grower or a worker serving in a small tea plantation can claim up to Rs 1 lakh in case of partial or total disablement or death,” Chatterjee said. “A worker who falls sick and remains absent from duty for over three months can get compensation up to Rs 15,000.”

For this, the Trust and the grower/worker will pay Rs 7 each as annual premium.

The Trust plans to bring in 12.77 lakh growers and 51.08 lakh workers under the insurance scheme. Of them, 85,000 growers and 3.40 lakh workers will be from the tea industry.

Growers in north Bengal have welcomed the initiative taken by the Trust in association with the Tea Board of India. “We appreciate the initiative. Although the compensation for low prices is not a huge amount (Rs 1,000), in a bad year all help is welcome,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers Associations. “The workers can also reap the benefit of the insurance.”