Govt move to reopen Dooars tea gardens

The Bengal government has come out with a series of measures to woo prospective entrepreneurs and existing owners to reopen the closed tea gardens in the Dooars.

Of the 158 tea gardens in the region, 12 are closed.

The measures — under the West Bengal State Support Scheme for Reopening of Closed/Abandoned Tea Gardens, 2008 — have been announced by the state commerce and industries department in a notification (No.-384-CI/O/T-Ind/010/07/PI) by its principal secretary Sabyasachi Sen on December 15.

“Whereas the Governor is of the option that it is necessary and expedient to extend certain concession/benefits/relief to the tea sector so as to enable the owners/proprietors of the closed/abandoned tea gardens to reopen them and also to protect the interests of the tea garden workers as well as the dependant members of their families and to ensure long-term sustainable viability of the tea industry in the overall industrial development of the state…,” reads the notification.

The scheme is valid for two years. A garden, registered to a tea company for not less than five years and has remained closed or was abandoned for over one year, will be considered under the scheme.

Tea industry sources said the scheme also defined the benefits and eligible criteria of entrepreneurs, both existing and new, contemplating of reopening the closed gardens.

During the recession in tea industry in the first half of the decade, a number of tea estates had closed down primarily because of shortage of working capital.

“The proposal to reopen or revive the gardens must have the support of any intending financial institution or bank in respect of working capital requirement. It should also include commitment for a substantial investment on the part of the entrepreneur,” said the notification

Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, the apex body of trade unions including the Citu and the Intuc, said: “It is important for the state government to judge the potential and economic background of the willing entrepreneurs.”

“There are instances that new companies and individuals, who had entered into an interim arrangement with old owners, had failed to meet the financial requirements after a few days, leaving the gardens inoperative again,” he said.

The list of benefits (see chart) include waivers on electricity duty and payment of an employment and education cess to be paid by an owner at the rate of Re 0.12 per kg of tea from the date of production.

The notification, however, said that some of the central and state schemes would be withdrawn after reopening the gardens. “This can be discouraging to some extent. For an entrepreneur who is planning to reopen a garden having a steady workforce and their dependents will always want some other income generating options,” a planter said.

Others, however, appreciate the government’s move. “It is good that the state has come out with a scheme, clarifying the benefits. We expect entrepreneurs to turn up now,” said N.K. Basu, the principal advisor to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

From The Telegraph