Centre boost to small tea growers

The Union commerce and industry ministry has decided to take up a slew of measures — ranging from training to financial assistance — to help the 15,000-odd small tea growers in north Bengal.

“We met the chairperson of the Tea Board of India on February 5 in Calcutta when he informed us in detail about future plans,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “The measures are expected to be effective from the next season starting in the middle of March.”

The decisions taken by the ministry include upgrading a substation of the Tea Research Association (TRA) at Nagrakata into a training and research centre. “The upgrade on will be done under the 11th Five-Year Plan. Hostels for trainees and other infrastructure like class rooms will be built to organise training programmes for small growers throughout the year,” Chakraborty said. At present, a six-month course on tea cultivation is conducted only at the TRA headquarters in Tocklai in Assam.

The board chairman Basudeb Banerjee, also said the price sharing formula in the small tea sector would be altered and is likely to be implemented from April 1. “According to the existing arrangement, we get 60 per cent of the price realised by selling 1kg of made-tea, while bought-leaf factories get 40 per cent. It will be changed to 65 and 35 per cents respectively,” Chakraborty said. “This new ratio has already been implemented in Tamil Nadu and will come into force in other small tea sectors across the country.”

The ministry will promote self-help groups (SHGs) in the small tea sector. Roshni Sen, the deputy chairperson of the board, said: “The SHGs will be helped with infrastructure and funds. Our thrust is on these groups which can augment the bargaining capacity of growers.”

SHG members would be selected for training at Nagrakata. After their return, they would teach other members of the group. The board would bear the cost of the training.

Tea Board largesse for gardens

Nagrakata (Jalpaiguri), Feb. 10: The Tea Board of India has decided to extend some additional financial help to the sector.

At the 37th annual general meeting of the North Bengal branch of the tea Association of India (TAI) held at Nagrakata Club here yesterday, Roshni Sen, deputy chairperson of the board, said both small and large scale tea growers could obtain government subsidies for different development schemes.

“To avail of subsidies, it is essential that schemes are planned properly,” Sen said in her speech. She said assistance would be under the 11th Five Year Plan and would not be a part of the SPTF (special purpose tea fund) for rejuvenation and re-plantation of tea bushes.

The financial help, Sen said, includes 25 per cent subsidies on drainage, purchase of vehicles, and sanitation and drinking water schemes. “Improvement of drainage system in tea gardens is a key area to be taken care of,” she said.

Once the schemes are approved, up to 25 per cent of the total project cost will be subsidised by the board. The deputy chairperson assured the meeting that funds under SPTF would be disbursed soon. Under this scheme, a 25 percent subsidy will be given on the vehicles used to carry away and dump uprooted bushes and bring tea saplings.

If small tea growers set up mini factories, the Board will dole out 50 per cent subsidy for buying machines.

At the meeting, office-bearers of the TAI presented data that showed that the production and export of tea had fallen last year.

The total tea production registered in 2007 was 945 million kg as against 956 million kg in 2006. While 219 million kg tea was exported in 2006, only 157 million kg was sold overseas in 2007. The import, however, was only 15 million kg last year compared to 24 million kg in 2006.

Reacting to the demand by the TAI officials that branding of tea produced in the Terai and Dooars — that accounted for 25 per cent of the total production in India — should be branded to boost trade, Sen said a logo was being created for the produce in the region. She, however, added that several legal issues were to be tackled before getting the logo registered. She hoped that the task would be accomplished by the end of this year.

Sen also said an electronic auction system would be launched in Calcutta. “If the system there is successful, it will be replicated at all other auction centres in India.”

India to share spotlight at Global Dubai Tea Forum 2008

Dubai, Feb. 3, 2008 (WAM) -- India will share the spotlight at the upcoming second Global Dubai Tea Forum, organised by Dubai Tea Trading Centre (DTTC), from February 19-20, 2008 here at the Hyatt Regency.

DTTC announced that two unique events are being organised during the forum to familiarize the trade and consumers with the quality attributes of both Darjeeling and South Indian teas.

The Global Dubai Tea Forum will organise a tea tasting session of various Darjeeling teas, with the objective of providing an insight into the special characteristics of the world famous Darjeeling teas. In addition, the United Planters Association of Southern India and the Tea Board of India will host the fourth Golden Leaf India Awards: Southern Tea Competition (TGLIA-STC), which will recognise and acknowledge exceptional taste and quality among some 60 varieties of Southern Indian teas.

"With Dubai and DTTC's fast-growing recognition as an emerging hub for the global tea trade, our biennial forum has generated an extremely strong response from international tea-producing, trading and consuming communities," said Sanjay Sethi, Head of DTTC.

"In addition to facilitating networking and business development opportunities for members of the trade, events such as the Golden Leaf India Awards and Darjeeling tea tasting session underline DTTC's commitment to raising awareness of the industry towards driving global appreciation of different varieties of tea. We look forward to working closely with the Tea Board of India to make these dedicated events a success," he added.

Mrs. Priya Kumar, Director of Tea Promotion, Tea Board of India, said the West Asia-North Africa region, of which Dubai is an important trading hub, is a major market for Indian teas, and more than 35 per cent of India's total tea exports are to this region. "We are now looking towards promoting the higher-end and value-added teas in this market. We feel that the Global Dubai Tea Forum is the apt platform for the same as a cross-section of the global tea trade would be present here," she added.

While the unique characteristics of Darjeeling teas will be presented through a special tea tasting session, the South Indian teas will be showcased through a tea competition where the best estates of South India would participate and the winning teas would be selected by an international jury of up to eight expert tea tasters.

Brew belt demands pay hike

Siliguri, Feb. 4: Trade union leaders in the tea belt of north Bengal have demanded a pay hike for workers just before discussions begin on a new wage agreement.

The existing tripartite industry-wide agreement expires on March 31. The three-year deal was signed in Calcutta on July 25, 2005.

“Though some gardens are still closed and a few are short on funds, the tea industry in north Bengal has done much better in the past couple of years,” said Chitta Dey, convener, Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers. “So, we want planters to revise the salary structure of employees before the new wage agreement is implemented from April 1.”

The Coordination Committee is the apex body of tea trade unions, including the Citu and the Intuc.

Last time, it took more than two years to reach a consensus (the earlier wage agreement had expired on March 31, 2003) and that too after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee intervened and the unions went on an indefinite strike.

“We don’t want the industry to suffer this time, but expect the planters to consider the need for an immediate pay hike,” said Dey.

Before the 2005 agreement, the daily wage of a permanent worker was Rs 45.90. Now, it is Rs 53.90, much lower than the Rs 88 promised by union leaders in 2005.

“At that time, we had to consider the problems faced by the industry,” a union leader said. “This time, we will demand a substantial rise because tea prices are on the rise, exports have increased, new overseas markets have been identified and domestic consumption has swelled.”

The planters were guarded in their response.

“The tea industry in north Bengal has definitely shown signs of improvement in the past few years, but the social costs, too, have gone up,” said N.K. Basu, the convener of the apex body of the planters. “It is difficult to think of a wage revision right now.”

Tea demands carbon credit

Siliguri, Feb. 3: Planters of north Bengal have demanded that the tea industry be included in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a mandate of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

The demand comes at a time when carbon credit is a boom in India and a few organisations have earned money in the past few years by selling credits to companies in the European Union (EU) and the US.

“Though there had been revolutionary resolutions on global warming and greenhouse effect at the international level, tea, an eco-friendly industry, has never been conferred the Certified Emissions Reduction status,” said P.K. Rahut, a senior vice-chairman of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association (ITPA). He was speaking at the 59th annual general meeting of the organisation at Binnaguri on Friday.

“It is ridiculous that carbon credit has been denied to tea on the ground that it is the very nature of the industry to have low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” said Rahut.

Only companies enlisted with the executive board of CDM formed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Kyoto in Japan in December 1997 can enjoy carbon credits. These companies are identified as Certified Emissions Reduction units and receive certificates for reduced GHG emissions.

In India, the National Clean Development Authority, functioning under the Union environment and forests ministry, considers applications for inclusion in the CDM before forwarding them to the international body.

“A number of companies are enlisted with the CDM in our country,” an expert said. The Oil and Natural gas Commission or ONGC is one such company.

“These companies get carbon credits for each tonne of carbon dioxide that they can cut down upon. The credits can be sold (a company may not sell it also) through a market like any other commodity to units in the EU and US at the rate of 10-15 Euros per credit. The companies there purchase the credits to balance the level of emissions from their units, which is usually high.”

Stakeholders of the tea industry said their factories are located in brew plantations that absorb carbon dioxide, a primary GHG, and so they are justified in raising the demand.

“The industry in India is reeling from funds crisis. If tea manufacturing units are enlisted with the CDM, we too, can earn money by selling carbon credits,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the ITPA. “We will soon write to the Centre with this demand.”

Fear of crash empties school

Alipurduar, Feb. 3: The sight of a burning plane crashing nearby has so terrified the students of the primary school in Bhatpara Tea Estate that they are refusing to attend classes.

On thursday afternoon, a MiG-27 crashed in a betel nut grove located within 50m of the school.

Most of the 312 students witnessed the crash, while one of them, Niki Thapa, escaped death by a hair’s breadth. The six-year-old had been picking flowers at the grove and though the plane missed her, she had to be admitted to hospital in a state of shock.

On Friday and Saturday, not a single student turned up at the school. Worried, the teachers contacted local gram panchayat member Jaglal Rout and together they visited the houses of nearly 50 students today.

“All the children said they were too scared to go to school, especially since fighter planes fly over our tea garden every day,” said Rout. “So I sat with the teachers and we have decided to conduct a door-to-door campaign to convince the students to come to school.”

Rout has a tough task at hand. Sunita Roy’s son Abinash is in Class IV and saw the crash. “From the day of the incident, my son is in shock. At night, he is woken up by nightmares. He has clearly told me that he would not go to school, fearing another plane crash,” said Sunita. She added that the final exams were knocking at the door.

The panchayat member said the crash had also damaged the school building. “There is a huge crack on the wall of a classroom.”

Niki is showing signs of improvement, but Friskila Toppo, who was in her house less than 20m from the crash site, still cannot hear anything.

MiG-27 pilot recalls Thursday horror flight

Hasimara, Feb. 3: The MiG-27 that crashed in Bhatpara Tea Estate on Friday afternoon had developed a mechanical problem minutes after it took off from the Indian Air Force station here, the pilot said today.

Wing Commander Jaspreet Singh had taken off at 12.28pm and soon sensed trouble in the fighter plane’s engine.

Sitting in room 142 in the officers’ ward of the station hospital, Singh said he had immediately radioed the air traffic control.

“I tried my best to get back to base safely, but the engine caught fire and I immediately ejected,” Singh said.

The plane spiralled away trailing smoke and crashed three kilometres away at 12.35pm, seven minutes after take off.

“I was told that I had parachuted down on Raimatang Tea Estate. The people there were very helpful and provided me with a Maruti Omni and drove me to the Kalchini police station,” the pilot said.

Singh was flown back to the air station in an IAF helicopter that landed in the field in front of the police station soon after the crash. He was taken directly to the station hospital, where he is undergoing rigorous medical check-ups.

The wing commander will have to go for further medical tests at the Command Hospital in Calcutta. R.S. Upadhyay, the commanding officer of the hospital here, said Singh was “in good health” and would be released in a day or two.

“I was lucky to survive and also glad to hear that there were no human casualties on the ground where the aircraft impacted, though I have not visited the place as yet,” said the pilot with more than 2,600 hours of flying time.

The station commander, Group Captain M.K. Behl, today said the black box from the MiG-27 has been recovered from the Bhatpara tea garden. He said experts from all over India had come here to find out the reason for the accident.

Singh, who joined the IAF as a pilot officer in 1993, was transferred here from Tezpur in Assam last April.

“My wife gave birth to our second child, a son, on December 18. She told me over telephone that she is coming to see me from Mohali soon,” the pilot said.