Droughts affecting global tea price

Droughts in key producing countries and the impact of the weak pound are putting tea prices under pressure, industry experts have warned.

Low rainfall in the growing regions of India, Kenya and Sri Lanka - which together account for half the world's exports - have led to poor crop yields, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Civil unrest around Kenya's elections also caused problems last year.

Prices at weekly auctions in Mombasa - the global benchmark for the industry - have risen 15% since December, to 3.40 US dollars (£2.38) a kilogram. Wholesale black tea prices surged 11% last year to an average of 3.10 dollars (£2.17) a kilogram last year - the highest annual average since at least 1993, according to figures published by the Financial Times.

While the supply problems are unlikely to have too much impact on mainstream tea prices, premium teas such as Darjeeling could be affected.

Kaison Chang, a tea specialist at the FAO, said high altitude teas like Darjeeling have been hit by the drought and "the quantity is not expected to be as much as last year".

It is understood that part of the supply problem stems from Sri Lanka, which is set to see production fall to a seven-year low after the drought and farmers' unwillingness to use expensive fertilisers.

William Gorman, executive chairman of the UK Tea Council, said that, while the price of a cuppa has risen, this was the first hike in 10 years.

He said the typical cost of 80 tea bags, which retailed at £1.89 in 1999, had recently gone up to £1.97.

Mr Gorman said the increase was predominantly a product of the weakness in the pound, as tea is traded in US dollars.

"We have had to find more pounds to pay for our tea," he said.

Darjeeling Tea Estate to become the latest Buddhist Pilgrimage site

Upper Phagu tea estate near Gorubathan, 70km from here, is set to become the latest Buddhist pilgrimage site with the inauguration of a stupa on Saturday.

Dedicated to Atish Dipankar Srigyan, a 10th century Buddhist prince of a kingdom in north Bengal, the 74.2ft tall stupa has been erected by Hoishwar Rimpoche along with the Upper Phagu Tamang Gumba Committee (UPTGC) on a plot gifted by the estate.

Lobsang Tamang, the Kalimpong branch president of the All India Tamang Buddhist Association, said the site was selected on the basis of a prediction made to Chhattal Sangay Dorji Rimpoche by his Tibetan guru 65 years ago. Sangay Dorji, who is the head of the Tamang gumba in Salbari near Siliguri, had performed the “bhumi puja” for the construction of the stupa in January 2006.

The garden authorities had gifted 0.70 acre of land to the UPTGC in 2002 for constructing a gumba. However, the committee handed over the land to Sangay Dorji who asked the Rimpoche, who also sits in Salbari, to erect the stupa.

The stupa has been constructed on a barren garden plot near the Chel river and is surrounded by lush green hills on all sides. The Rimpoche hoped that the place would not only become another tourism site, but a place where people would find inner peace.

The tea estate is about 60km from Siliguri and its nearest tourist spot is Lava, 25km away.

Duncans forays into Indian super-premium packaged tea segment

Duncans Tea, the flagship division of the Rs 2,000-crore Duncan-Goenka Group, is foraying into the super premium packaged tea category with two brands of Darjeeling Tea.

With the two new brands, Duncans Darjeeling Tea and Indian Treasure, the company is aiming for 5 per cent marketshare in the premium packaged tea category over the next one year. M C Appaiah, chief operating officer, Duncans Tea, added that the two brands would soon be made available in all metros, beginning with Bengaluru. Other brands in the Duncans portfolio include Runglee Rungliot, Double Diamond, Sargam, King's Cup and Shakti. Darjeeling tea has an annual production of 11.7 million kg and accounts for an estimated 1.5 per cent of overall tea production in India.

Intuc cries foul against rally holiday

The CPM and its labour wing have asked gardens in the Terai to declare holidays for the next two days to enable tea workers to attend rallies of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Darjeeling district Intuc has alleged.

“We have no problem if the CPM and Citu supporters and workers in tea estates go out to attend the rallies. But issuing diktats to induce more people to go to the meetings is not acceptable,” said Aloke Chakraborty, the president of the Darjeeling district Intuc, today. “We have specific information that representatives of the management in some tea estates have declared two-day holiday in the gardens. We condemn this effort to cajole the employees and their families into attending party meetings.”

The Intuc leader has sought the chief minister’s intervention to mitigate the workers’ woes because of a “drought-like situation” in the region.

“The CPM speaks a lot about the working class. If it is really sincere to protect the workers’ interests, the chief minister should then check out why the government has issued an order that said no tea estate can channel or take out water from a water body located near the plantation. The order was issued despite the fact that the tea bushes are suffering from pest attack and drying everyday in want of rain in a drought-like situation,” Chakraborty said. “If tea bushes dry up, the workers will ultimately be affected.”

The CPM has, however, denied the charge. “These are baseless allegations levelled before the polls,” said Jibesh Sarkar, the party candidate of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. “We don’t need to issue any diktat as people come to our meetings spontaneously. However, instructions have been passed on to party supporters in the estates to attend the chief minister’s meeting.”

Bhattacharjee will reach here by the afternoon flight and address a workers’ meeting at Kanchenjungha Stadium. He will also meet district leaders at the party office and stay at the Circuit House. On Sunday, the chief minister will visit Saidabad Tea Estate, 25km from here, to address another rally before leaving for Bagdogra on way to Calcutta.

The chief minister’s visit has assumed significance especially after today’s incident in Darjeeling where Sarkar and other party leaders were allegedly harassed by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters, party sources said.

“Party supporters as well as district leaders are eagerly waiting to hear from him as to what they should do to intensify the campaign,” a source said.

ABAVP threat vexes tea workers

Tea worker union leaders expressed concern at the Ahkil Bhartiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad's threat to boycott the Lok Sabha polls unless the state government concede to their demands by 31 March. According to the worker union leaders, the ABAVP threat could have a major impact on non-Adivasi voters, who might shy away from exercising their franchise.

According to Mr Chitta De, convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers ~ a platform of 18 tea worker unions ~ the move could deprive many of their right to vote. “The ABAVP is an NGO. It cannot restrict people from exercising their democratic rights. The ABAVP is trying to exploit the plantation workers. We will not let them do so. We are organizing regular meetings with the workers to convince them to cast their votes.”

The National Union of Plantation Workers secretary, Mr Moni Darnal, said that nobody could stop the people from voting. “The political tension in the Dooars has already damaged harmony in the region and it is our responsibility to heal the wound. We are trying to convince our supporters not to be influenced by the ABAVP,” he said.
The majority of Jalpaiguri district's voters belong to the tea plantations, which play a decisive role in the constituency as well as in Alipurduar. According to the Citu state vice-president, Mr Manik Sanyal, the district has about four lakh voters in the tea plantations. “We want to ensure that neither the ABAVP nor the GJMM exploits them,” Mr Sanyal said.

The All India secretary of Hind Majdoor Sabha, Mr Samir Roy, said that the tea workers were concerned about their rights. “We presume the ABAVP will finally change its position.”

ABAVP’s Terai-Dooars coordination committee secretary Mr Rajesh Lakra reacted by saying that their campaign in the tea belt was to make supporters aware of the outfit's stand.


Labourer ‘starves’ to death - Garden in need of succour

Jaigaon, March 26: A 45-year-old man died apparently from malnutrition in Radharani Tea Estate, where more than 400 workers have been living without two square meals a day and medicine ever since the management abandoned the garden two months ago.

“After Subhlal Oraon, a worker of the estate located in Alipurduar’s Kalchini block, starved to death, his 10-year-old son Deepraj is an orphan now,” said Ashok Minj, the convener of the operating and maintenance committee of the garden. His mother, too, had died without food three months back, he added.

“The management had left the estate on January 15 and since then, there have been no wage payments, pushing 405 labourers into the brink of penury. There are many workers and their family members who are suffering from illness with no money to visit doctors,” said Minj.

“Subhlal had been ailing for 20 days and there was no one to look after him. There are many others, who are similarly suffering from either fever or water-borne diseases,” said the convener.

After the management had abandoned the garden, more than 100 people, including schoolchildren, left the estate to look for jobs in other states or Bhutan.

“The labourers were given work under the central government’s employment guarantee programme for seven days in January, but no payment has been made as yet,” said Ashoke Chhetri, the unit secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers in the garden. He added that the management had defaulted on wages, ration, provident fund and gratuity, which would together come around to Rs 88 lakh.

According to him, with the general elections round the corner, no one is interested in the plight of the workers.

The general secretary of the union, Pravat Mukherjee, said although a meeting had been convened at the office of the assistant labour commissioner in Alipurduar, the management failed to show up.

Mattheus Lepcha, the joint block development officer of Kalchini, said he was yet to hear about the worker’s death. “However, I will ask the block medical officer to conduct health check-ups in the estate.”

Tata tea rise even as tea exports to stay low

The possible downfall in exports in the tea industry might not have adverse impact on the Indian tea industry, as the domestic demand is strong enough to drive past the recessionary period.

A fall in the exports to Russia had raised the concerns of the tea traders across the country, as the buyers in Russia are delaying their purchase decisions due to credit crunch.

According to Tea Board estimates, there could be some deferments in the short term. However, experts see an increase in the consumption of Indian CTC teas as the recession-hit consumers would switch over to consuming tea from other costlier beverages. A general perception says that people consume more tea staying at home. But some costlier varieties like the Darjeeling tea would have an adverse impact.

According to available figures, tea exports for the CY 2008 stood at 196 million kgs an increase of 10% from 178 kgs in 2007. But for the fiscal year-ending March 2009, the exports could fall short of targeted 210 million kgs.

Lack of timely rains too seemed to have impacted the Indian tea output in the January-March quarter. Country’s key growing areas including Assam had witnessed a dry spell of six months from September to February during this year.

Tea stocks on the bourses traded positive today as one of the country’s largest tea makers, Tata Tea Ltd was trading at Rs.552 up by close to 1.5%, while CCL Products India Ltd traded at Rs.63.25 up by 1.5% on the BSE. Tea exporter and trader, Bombay Burmah Trading Company Ltd was treading high at Rs. 129 up by 7.5% during the afternoon trading hours on the BSE today.

(Darjeeling, March 20): Rainfall in Darjeeling today after almost five months helped settle the dust, but failed to provide much needed relief to the tea planters and the people in general.

With overcast skies since early morning, many residents were hoping for a rain. While it drizzled in the morning, there was a shower for about half an hour around 11.30am.

Darjeeling tea planters said the rainfall was just a little too late. “The shower has come a bit too late,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association.

The Darjeeling planters usually rely on rain around Christmas but there was no shower during the winter this year.

The dry weather has stemmed the growth of first flush, which usually fetches the highest price at auctions.

“We have suffered heavy losses this year, but we cannot provide a comprehensive figure unless the first flush season is over,” said Mukherjee.

Plucking for the first flush has already started and it generally carries on till April end.

While the rain has brought little relief to the planters, the Darjeeling Municipality, too, said the short spell would not help them much. “We need more rain. Anyway, we had started making preparations to distribute potable water through trucks and jeeps from next week. We have already approached the DGHC to provide us with Rs 40 lakh for water distribution,” said Pemba Tshering Ola, the chairman of the civic body.

The two lakes in Senchel, which supply water to Darjeeling, are bone dry. While the South Lake has absolutely no water in store, the North Lake has only about eight feet of water against the normal storage of 12 feet. Most of the 25 streams that feed water to these two lakes are running dry.

“If we have a good shower for a couple of days, the streams will start flowing again. But short spells like that of today will not help,” said a municipal worker who is associated with the distribution.

The Indian Meteorological Department has said on its website that a disturbance has developed over Jammu and Kashmir, while another was forming over western Uttar Pradesh.

With clouds still moving over the region, there is hope for more rains in Darjeeling.

Fast against high-decibel noise from tea factory

Agitated over constant sound emanating from a bought-leaf tea factory, residents of Rahutbagan in Jalpaiguri launched a 48-hour hunger strike today.

The residents alleged that Unique Tea Born Pvt Ltd that produces around 4,000kg of CTC tea everyday has become a cause of concern for around 200 people of the locality on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri.

“We had approached several government officials, including those of the Pollution Control Board (PCB). But nothing has changed till date,” said Dulal Dey who lives in Rahutbagan.

According to the residents, the roaring of machines, which is regularly audible in the area throughout the day, can sometimes be heard even at night. “Because of the noise from the factory, we are forced to speak to each other in high-pitched voice at home. We cannot sleep at night and many of us have high blood pressure and gastric problems,” said Jiban Kar, one of the two persons who are on the fast.

The residents said a meeting had been convened at the PCB office at Matigara in December last year and it was decided that experts would be sent to look into the complaint and advise the management as to how the noise could be reduced. “But nobody has come and inspected the machines,” said another resident.

The factory did not function today as many people had gathered in front of it to express solidarity with those on the fast.

Diptendu Biswas, the manager of the factory, said he unit was ready to follow any instruction given by the PCB. “We have around 70 workers and most of them are local people. Requests had been made to the residents to call off the strike and sit across the table with PCB officials and us, but they were not ready to relent.”

Biswajit Mukherjee, the senior law officer of state environment department, said over the phone from Calcutta that it was mandatory for any unit in an industrial area to keep sound limited to 70 decibels. “If the unit is in a commercial area, the limit is 65. In non-commercial and non-industrial areas, the sound limit is 55 decibels.” He said the limits were mentioned in the Environment Protection Act, 1986, read with Noise Regulation and Control Rules, 2000.

Locals up in arms against tea factory

Villagers of Rahut Bagan under Kharia gram panchayat in Jalpaiguri district today started a relay hunger strike demanding immediate action against a tea bought leaf factory.
According to the agitators, the machines of the factory generate intolerable noise creating problems for the villagers. “The cacophony has caused cracks on the walls of our house and led some people to develop hearing and other physical problems. It creates mental agony for the children as well. Our protests have so far fallen on deaf ears, forcing us to launch a hunger strike,” said Mr Biswanath Dey, one of the agitators.
Mr Dulal Roy, another agitator, said that Madhyamik examinees of the village suffered the most during examinations and that Higher Secondary candidates were now suffering from the same problem. “We have been protesting since 2003 without success,” he claimed.
Madhubala Sarkar, a 70-year-old woman, also joined the programme today. “The administration should consider our condition and ban the factory immediately, or we will intensify our stir,” she said.
The Jalpaiguri district magistrate Mrs Vandana Yadav said that she would inquire into the matter. “If the complaint proves correct we will immediately ban the bought leaf factory for creating noise pollution,” she said.

Blaze & clash in Dooars garden

A shop and a house belonging to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters were set on fire last night in a tea garden, allegedly by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad who are against the recruitment of tribal youths for the Gorkhaland Personnel.

While the house belonged to Krishna Gurung, Binod Gurung owned the shop.

On Sunday, too, a Morcha leader had been beaten up. Manoj Gurung’s house was attacked by a mob which accused him of informing Hashimara police that armed Parishad supporters were moving around in Satali Tea Estate.

Earlier the same day, Rupesh Toppo was busy recruiting youths for the Gorkhaland Personnel, the special cell of the hill party, when some Parishad supporters threatened him of dire consequences if he did not stop immediately. They said they did not want any of the boys from the estate, 40km from here, to join the GLP.

Shortly after this, six Parishad supporters were arrested. While some Parishad members went to the police station to get the accused released, others beat up Gurung. The mob left the Morcha leader’s house after the police released the Parishad members at 4am yesterday.

Sandeep Ekka, the secretary of the Hashimara-Jaigaon Committee of Parishad, admitted that supporters of his organisation had attacked Manoj on Sunday. “We had visited Toppo and told him not to recruit the boys for GLP. On hearing that six of our men had been arrested, our supporters were agitated, all the more because Manoj had called them. He had tried to flee but we caught him.”

Ekka, however, denied the Parishad’s role in last night’s blaze. “We were on duty last night since we had heard that a group of Morcha supporters might enter the garden. Suddenly, we saw the shop was on fire. The police and fire brigade had visited the spot.” Rajesh Sharma, the media and publicity secretary in eastern Dooars of the Morcha, said a complaint has been lodged in the Hashimara police outpost against the Parishad supporters. “If action is not taken, then we will call a strike in the Kalchini block.”

S.R. Misra, the additional superintendent of police of Alipurduar, said extra forces have been deployed in the garden from this evening.

ABAVP threatens boycott of LS polls

The Akhil Bhartiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad leadership today threatened to boycott the Lok Sabha polls in Jalpaiguri district if the state government failed to fulfil its demands by 31 March.

According to the organisation’s Terai-Dooars coordination committee president, Mr John Barla, the tribals have lost faith in the Left Front Parliamentarians of the region. “The former RSP MP from Alipurduar constituency, Mr Joachim Buxla, did nothing for the tribals. He used to visit the locked tea plantations to seek votes but did not take the initiative to reopen the plantations while the workers continued to suffer. This year, the RSP has changed its candidate and nominated state PWD minister Mr Manohar Tirkey for Alipurduar constituency, but we are not convinced of his efficacy,” Mr Barla said.

According to the leader, the state government has done nothing for the development of the region. “We have been appealing for the last 61 years for development, to no avail. We have therefore decided to boycott the elections until the state government fulfils our demands.”

The unit’s secretary, Mr Rajesh Lakra, said their patience has crossed all limits. “The chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, met our delegation in Kolkata recently where we presented a 16-point charter of demands to him. We urged him to fulfil them by 31 March. We held a meeting at Nagrakata today and resolved to boycott the poll proceedings if our demands were not met by the stipulated date,” Mr Lakra said.

From SNS

Parishad cries power bias

The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today warned of a non-co-operation movement if the electricity company disconnected power supply to the Bharnobari Tea Estate in the Dooars.

The workers of the garden turned away the officials of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd when they had come to yank off power lines to the estate on Saturday.

“We protest against the biased attitude of the power officials. They do not have the guts to collect crores of rupees due in the hills for months, while they cannot wait for a few days in Bharnobari. If we find that power supply is disconnected in the workers’ quarters in the garden or in any other place during exams, we will launch non-cooperation movement against the government,” said Rajesh Lakra, the general secretary of the Terai-Dooars Coordination Committee of the Parishad.

The state power minister, Mrinal Banerjee, during his visit here last month, had said although his department had incurred heavy losses, it would not disconnect power supply to the hills on humanitarian grounds.

“How can officials of his department think of disconnecting lines in Bharnobari then? Don’t they or the minister find it inhuman to put so many Madhyamik examinees in a spot?” Lakra asked

“We want to make it clear that the laws and rules are same for everybody. If the government relaxes some norms, everybody should be benefited. There should be no bias as is seen in this case,” Lakra said.

The workers blamed the garden management for the problems, saying the money deducted from their wages for power consumption had not been deposited with the electricity company.

Jayanta Banerjee, the manager of the estate, said at least one month’s bill would be paid latest by Wednesday.

Madhyamik plea on deaf ears

March 1: Workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate yesterday turned away electricity department officials wanting to disconnect supply to the garden and pleaded that the power lines, if snapped at all, should be done after the Madhyamik Examinations.

However, Shibesh Deb, the divisional manager of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd in Alipurduar, could not promise much. “We can give time only till tomorrow,” he said.

In the past two months, the power bills in the garden has accumulated to more than Rs 6 lakh over the past. The garden has electricity connection only in its labour lines, which have 70 Madhyamik candidates this time.

The block development officer of Kalchini, R. Sundas, too, had visited the estate yesterday asking the family members of two teenagers who died within 24 hours of each other last week to meet him so that he could arrange for relief material and cash. Sundas has asked the union leaders to compile a list of those in distress and submit it to him so that relief could be distributed.

This is probably the first time that aid will be given to an open garden. Last week, The Telegraph had on two days reported the plight of the workers in the struggling Bharnobari, located 42km from Alipurduar town on the India-Bhutan border.

The garden hospital has not functioned even after the estate reopened on April 28, 2008 after more than two years. The workers have not received their salaries for January and the union leaders suspect that they will not be paid for February too. The garden has not given any ration for the past 10 fortnights.

Biplab Sarkar, a leader of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “The deputy labour commissioner has called a meeting in his office in Jalpaigiuri to discuss the situation. Let us see what happens.”

Jayanta Banerjee, the manager of Bharnobari estate, said: “We may be behind in clearing the rations but over the past few months, we have disbursed them every week.” He said his absence should not be considered as “abandoning” the garden. “I had to leave to perform the last rites of a relative who died in Delhi.”