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