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.