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.”