Dhumal writes to Centre for revival of Kangra Tea

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has asked the Centre for a special package to revive the traditional Kangra Tea — one of the oldest variety of tea grown in the country since the British period.

In this regard, the state government has written to Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma and also Tea Board of India several times, but has not received any satisfactory response.

Opposing the move to release out the tea gardens, Dhumal had reiterated the state government’s resolve to rejuvenate Kangra Tea since the tea planters were in real distress and needed immediate help. “Leasing out the tea gardens either to a state agency or a professional company will not be acceptable to the tea planters. Instead, it will be in their interest to link them with some good private company for marketing purposes and ensure better return for the produce,” the chief minister wrote. Such a move would motivate tea planters to adopt better practices and produce good quality tea, he added.

Dhumal also told the Centre that the state government had sent its proposal for the revival of Kangra Tea in May 2010, which included rejuvenation and re-plantation in the existing active and abandoned areas, besides identifying new potential areas. The proposed package has several other components too.

Indian Express

Better prospects for Darjeeling Tea this year

KOLKATA: The export market shines bright for Darjeeling tea this year. Harrods of Knightsbridge has picked up 20% more while Twinings has placed enquiries with tea companies and Japanese buyers like Mitsui too have send feelers to the tea producers. Strong demand from overseas buyers has pushed up the prices at auctions by Rs 10-15 per kg.

Sanjay Bansal, chairman of Ambootia Group , the second-largest Darjeeling tea company, told ET: "The demand from overseas buyers has increased quite significantly this year. Harrods has already come to Darjeeling gardens and has picked up teas according to their own choice. Japanese buyers have also sent feelers and they will be coming in the autumn. There is a huge demand among the buyers for organic teas. Those gardens that produce organic teas are fetching good prices in the global market. In general, prices of tea are ruling firm."

Last year, Darjeeling tea had suffered a production loss due to drought-like situation in the hills. Production has increased this year due to favourable weather condition.

"Last year, production got affected due to a drought-like situation. We lost the premium first and second flush teas, which fetch maximum revenues. But revenue-wise this year will be better than last year," said Ashok Lohia , chairman of Chamong Tee , the largest Darjeeling tea producer.

Last year, Darjeeling had produced 8 million kg of tea, which was the lowest in last decade. Darjeeling produces nearly 10 million kg tea annually. Of this, 40% earns the maximum revenues as they are largely exported. The rest 60% is rain teas, which do not fetch good prices in the global market.

"Now, there has been incessant rains in the hills, which is a matter of concern to the producers. The industry is hopeful of achieving at least 9 million kg output this year," said Kausik Basu , secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association .

While exports have improved over the last three months, the domestic demand for Darjeeling tea is also increasing.

"Though the first and second flush teas are high-priced and are largely exported, there has been an interest among domestic consumers for these varieties. We are seeing a shift among the consumers from average tea to quality tea," said a city-based retailer.

Economic Times

North Indian tea exports up 30% in May 2011

Tea exports from North India rose by 30% to 4.8 million kg in May 2011 on the back of increased demand from overseas markets and a decline in production in Kenya.

North India had exported 3.7 million kg of tea in the year-ago period, according to the tea board data.

"The season has started on a good note and we are getting a lot of queries from foreign buyers. Also since the Kenyan tea production has gone down, the buyers are coming to us for their requirement," Indian Tea Association Joint Secretary Sujit Patra told PTI.

According to industry analysts, Kenya -- a leading exporter of black tea -- reported a decline in tea output due to depressed and poorly distributed rainfall.

"This time our focus is on export of quality tea so that we can increase our unit realisation on per kg of tea," Patra noted.

On tea exports to Iran, he said the payment problem with the Persian Gulf Nation could hamper tea exports to that country and would result in loss of earnings.

"Tea exporters are facing payment problems from Iran. We export a special variety of orthodox tea to Iran and this could be hampered because of payment problems," he pointed out.

According to the Tea Board Deputy Chairman, Roshni Sen, the Iran payment crisis issue is being taken up at the highest level.

The Iranian tea market is about 100 million kg and India exports about 15 million kg of tea to the West Asian country.

Following the imposition of US sanctions on Iran, the dollar and euro-based transactions with Iran have stopped, leading to a crisis over the mode for making payments

Money Control

Tripartite meet on tea garden tomorrow - Kallinecherra management declares lockout after labour unrest

Silchar, July 20: Tension has been simmering in a prime tea plantation in south Assam’s Cachar district for the past three days after the management declared a lockout following labour unrest.

The assistant labour commissioner of the state government in south Assam district, A. Howbam, has scheduled a tripartite meeting in his office here on Friday to restore normality in Kallinecherra tea estate, 45km west of this town.

Soumendu Mukherji, the secretary of the Barak Valley branch of the Tea Association of India (TAI), said at least three incidents of intransigence of workers over the past six months had prodded the management of Kallinecherra to clamp an indefinite lockout in the garden with effect from Monday, which is pay-day in the garden.

He said the latest showdown between the management and the workers took place on July 15 with the workers demonstrating in the office of garden manager A.R. Murya against the alleged “harassment and intemperate behaviour” of a senior official holding the post of tillababu in the garden’s Digarkhal division.

The assistant general secretary of Cachar Cha Sramik Union, Dinanath Baroi, today said the tillababu, Kirit Mohan Bhattacharjee, had provoked around 800 workers by asking at least five women workers, under the leadership of a tea plucker, Anita Bhumij, to do some work other than their daily duty of plucking tea leaves. The workers went to the manager’s bungalow and then to his office to lodge a protest. When the manager refused to meet them, the labourers ransacked both these establishments and damaged other garden property as well.

Soon after the workers’ protest, the authorities rushed a posse of policemen to the garden as the tension was escalating.

Baroi alleged that instead of solving the impasse, the management took recourse to lockout, which meant that the workers would be denied their wages and food rations.

The meeting called by the assistant labour commissioner will be attended, besides Howbam, by representatives of CCSU, the only recognised tea workers’ union in Barak districts, the management of the garden and TAI.

The stalemate in this profit-making garden comes at a time when this plantation has started reaping profits since 2008. It had slid into a phase of uncertainty for five years starting 2002 because of the recession in the tea industry.

The tea estate, located along NH44 on way to Meghalaya, is a property of the Calcutta-headquartered Loobah Tea Company Ltd. The annual output of the garden, which sprawls on 460 hectares, is pegged at about six lakh kg of CTC tea.

The Telegraph

Truancy warning to tea unions - Absenteeism rap follows wage hike

Darjeeling, June 29: Hill planters today sent a strong message to the trade unions that low productivity because of workers’ absenteeism and indiscipline would not be tolerated in the tea sector. The warning comes a day after the planters announced an across-the-board 33 per cent pay hike for the sub-staff of the Darjeeling tea industry.

The tea unions from the Darjeeling hills, especially the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated union, have been able to extract three major concessions for their workers and the sub-staff from the garden managements in the past six months.

The managements have been forced to pay an annual bonus to workers at the rate of 20 per cent to Grade A, B and C gardens and 17 per cent for Grade D estates in October 2010. According to the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, 20 per cent is the maximum permissible limit. The Darjeeling tea industry had last paid a 20 per cent bonus in 1991 when production reached an all-time high at 13.9 million kg annually.

In early March this year, the unions had managed to extract a daily wage hike of Rs 23 for the workers, which, too, is the highest hike in the industry’s history. Yesterday, the unions were once again able to bargain for an all-time high increase in the sub-staff salary at 33 per cent.

“We have given everything that was possible. However, everything will not be hunky-dory in the Darjeeling tea industry if core issues related to labour indiscipline is not immediately addressed. Absenteeism is as high as 30 per cent among the work force. Workers don’t even put in 8 hours and indiscipline is rampant,” said Sandip Mukherjee, secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

In fact, the Singtam tea garden in Darjeeling had to withdraw its management in December last year because of high absenteeism among workers.

Mukherjee said tea production figures were plummeting but the cost of production was bound to rise because of the unprecedented hike in salaries and the rise in prices of other commodities. “Given the hike in the wages and in fuel prices we can safely assume that the cost price would now go up by Rs 100 from the present Rs 250 per kg on an average. The average selling price still stands at around Rs 400 per kg,” said Mukherjee.

The selling price of tea in gardens located in lower elevations is not so high. “The quality of tea depends on the elevation,” said Mukherjee. The wage hike has, however, not differentiated between gardens on the basis of their elevations.

“The unions must make an attempt to address and educate the workers. We are ready to provide logistic help to the union leaders like ensuring transport to reach their people in distant gardens and make them understand the need to put in quality hours in a labour intensive sector. Merely being in the field for eight hours does not mean that they are doing the required amount of work,” said Mukherjee.

Given the fact that there are 55,000 permanent workers and 16,000 temporary ones in the 86-odd tea gardens of the hills, the industry will have to bear an additional burden of more than Rs 40 crore per annum for paying the salaries of the workers and sub staff following the increment. With the increase in wages, bonus and provident funds are also expected to increase. “The returns show no signs of improving. If the workers put in proper effort we can expect production to go up by more than one million kg annually,” said Mukherjee. According to the officials, the annual production of made tea was around 8 million kg last year.

“We want the unions’ active involvement as workers listen to them. The management is represented by a manager and three to four assistants in a garden. The situation is such that every one is trying to be a union leader,” said Mukherjee.

Suraj Subba, general secretary of the Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, said his trade union had always extended co-operation to the management and would continue to do so.

“However, instead of only blaming the workers the planters should also admit that there is mismanagement in the garden. We have never asked labourers to work only for six or seven hours instead of eight hours and they should manage things well,” Subba said.

On low-productivity, Subba said: “Most of the gardens are converting into organic gardens and production is bound to come down by at least 30 per cent. The management should also start uprooting old tea bushes and start replanting to boost production.”

The Telegraph