Darjeeling: The Darjeeling tea growers have appealed to the Center to extend the moratorium on the repayment of loan to replant bushes from five to ten years.

According to the Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) scheme launched by the Union commerce and industry ministry in 2007, growers who want to replant their gardens can get 50 per cent of the total cost as loan. The government gives 25 per cent of the cost as subsidy.

The scheme has provision for a moratorium of five years on the payment of the loans. The planters have to start repaying the loan from the sixth year onwards in eight equal installment annually.

The planters have said the scheme has very few takers in the hills as the bushes become viable only after 10 to 12 years of replanting.

“In the plains, tea bushes become economically viable within five years. However, in the Darjeeling hills, tea is produced only after 10-12 years of replanting. We want the government to announce a moratorium of at least eight to 10 years to make the scheme attractive for the hill gardens,” Sanjay Bansal, the former chairperson of the Darjeeling Tea Association, told The Telegraph.

The growers have also objected to the mandatory clause of uprooting all bushes that are over 50 years old.

“Unlike the plains where the yield starts to decline after the bush crosses 50 years, the yield of tea bushes in Darjeeling do not decline till it reaches the age of 75 years. This aspect should also be considered by the government,” said Bansal.

The hill planters also objected to the government’s cost estimate for uprooting and replanting bushes.

According the ministry, the total expenditure incurred by the planters in undertaking the exercise would stand at around Rs 3.27 lakh per hectare.

“The calculations are wrong for the Darjeeling industry. The expenditure (of uprooting and replanting) touches the Rs 8 lakh per hectare mark and the government should also revise this figure if it (the scheme) is to be made attractive,” Bansal said.

According to Bansal, the scheme had a target area of 9,000 hectares in Darjeeling.

“Only 12 per cent of the target has been availed by the industry according to the 2010 end figures,” he said.

The DTA had organised a program here today to hand over a cheque for Rs 20 lakh to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung for the relatives of the Bijanbari bridge collapse victims.

The association also handed over a cheque for Rs 10 lakh to the organizers of the Darjeeling Tea and Tourism Festival that will start on December 20.

Source: The Telegraph

Weather plays foul on tea

KOLKATA: Blame it on the weather gods if tea production in India does not touch the magical 1,000-million kilogram (mn kg) mark this year. Production was hit due to sparse rainfall from late September and the mercury has plunged before it usually does, affecting tea farming. Total production so far by north and south Indian gardens together is 730 mn kg. Industry experts are not very hopeful of touching the 1,000-mn kg mark. "Since September 20, Assam has experienced very dry weather. Both the north bank of the Brahmaputra as well as upper Assam received low rainfall. The tea crop output is dropping rapidly this month. So, even if it rains now, the Assam tea gardens won't have the same yield. Anyway, some rain is required now to stop the drought-like conditions in the gardens," Rossell India managing director Indian Tea Association (ITA) chairman C S Bedi told TOI. In 2010, the total tea production in India was 966.40 mn kg. "The only year when production came close to the 1,000-mn kg mark was 2007 when Indian gardens together produced 986 mn kg. But production declined in the two subsequent years," said Sujit Patra, ITA joint secretary. Till September, north Indian (including Darjeeling, Terai, Dooars and Assam) production was up by 36.7 mn kg compared to the same period last year. South Indian (Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) production during the same period was down by 4.6 mn kg. Till September last year, north and south Indian production was to the tune of 693 mn kg. Industry members also said since October was a festive month, plucking was affected. "This year, all Hindu religious festivals were in one month and there were some other religious festivals also that hit the crop," he said. "Although, there was a surge in crop production in the initial months, but I don't think it will be able to touch the 1,000 mn kg mark as temperatures in north India have already started dropping. Therefore, October, November and December will only see reduction in production," said Aditya Khaitan, managing director, McLeod Russel. His company is the world's largest tea producer. But the Darjeeling tea production can cheer up the tea buff. It is expected that Darjeeling's yield this year will be higher by 10-15% at around 9 mn kg. . "Till October, Darjeeling's 87 gardens together produced around 7.3 mn kg this year," said Darjeeling Tea Association secretary Kaushik Basu. Last year, Darjeeling produced 8 mn kg. Table: Indian Tea Production 2010: 966 mn kg 2009: 979 mn kg 2008: 981 mn kg 2007: 986 mn kg Source: Times of India

Surplus tea availability decreases CTC tea cost

KOLKATA: Increased availability of tea in the auctions has pulled down prices of CTC black teas by 4%. The September crop was up by 36 million kg, which has just entered the market and has resulted in a drop in prices. The prices will go up only if November production is lower. The bulk of the Indian tea production is CTC teas. The CTC tea prices have slipped to Rs 127 per kg compared to Rs 132 per kg in 2010. Price of orthodox tea has slipped 17% to Rs 130 per kg from Rs 157 last year as tea exports to Iran have declined due to payment crisis. Iran is one of the largest buyers of Indian orthodox tea. Orthodox teas from Himachal Pradesh have also arrived at the auctions and are fetching similar prices of those produced in Assam and Bengal. From January to September this year, domestic tea production stood at 729 million kg against 693 million kg in the same period previous year. However, the Darjeeling tea prices have appreciated 16% due to increased demand in the domestic market. The average price of Darjeeling tea is hovering around Rs 340 per kg compared to Rs 293 per kg. "The price hike is driven by consumer demand. Indian consumers are gradually getting used to Darjeeling tea. The increased purchasing power has also contributed to this offtake," said Ashok Lohia, chairman of Chamong Tee (one of the biggest Darjeeling Tea producers). The regional packeteers from Punjab and western India are buying heavily at the auctions. Retailers in West Bengal are also buying teas in good volumes as the prices have dipped. However, the prices have improved for the small tea growers. Between October 8 and November 10, small growers were forced to sell green leaf to bought leaf factories at Rs 2-3 per kg due to a bumper crop. "For the last month, green leaves in Bengal and Assam have been selling at Rs 2-3 per kg on an average when the production cost was more than Rs 10," said BG Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association (CISTA). Source: Times of India

The Bengal tea industry and workers' unions on Friday fixed the minimum wage for Dooars and Terai tea garden workers across the state to Rs 85 a day followed by an annual hike of Rs 5 for the next two years. The wage hike will come into retrospective effect from April 1 of this fiscal.

According to the three-year agreement, the daily wage of the workers will be Rs 85 for the current year, Rs 90 for 2012-2013 and Rs 95 for the financial year ending on March 31, 2014.

Earlier, the daily wage in the plains tea gardens with 2.5 lakh workers had been Rs 67.

Ministers Purnendu Bose (labour), Gautam Deb (north Bengal development) and Partha Chatterjee (industries) were present at the meeting, where it was announced that the tea problem stood solved “as of now”.

“It’s not hundred per cent of what we had set out to achieve. But this is a win-win situation for all stakeholders. We are trying to do everything we can for the revival and rejuvenation of the tea industry,” said Chatterjee after the agreement was signed at Writers’ Buildings between the government, five planters’ associations and 35 labor unions.

“We had been negotiating with the garden owners and the labor unions for months to try and reach a consensus on the wage. Demands were as high as Rs 165 a day. But we had to find a common ground. The arrears, for the period between April 1 and October 31 this year, will be paid in two installments before Christmas and Holi,” said Bose. The new wages will be paid at the end of this week. The variable dearness allowance, the calculation of which is based on the All India Consumer Price Index and to which the workers are entitled to under the agreement, will be settled within the next six months.

“It took months to resolve the issue but our initiative helped reach a wage rate, which is the highest ever in the industry so far. Workers used to get a daily wage of Rs 67 which has been revised to Rs 85, meaning a hike of Rs 18. In the agreements facilitated by the previous government, the hike had never been so high,” north Bengal development minister Deb.

In April, the labor wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had managed to strike a wage deal of Rs 90 a day, a hike of Rs 23, for workers of the Darjeeling tea industry.

Since then, the plains workers had been clamoring for a similar wage hike.

The state government has also decided to ask the Center to provide food-grain and amenities like drinking water, sanitation and medical facilities to the tea laborers. The fringe benefits are now provided by the managements of the respective gardens.

“We will talk to the Center to explore the possibilities of bringing these amenities under the ambit of the National Rural Health Mission,” said Bose.

The government, the owners and the labor unions also agreed in writing to ensure a smooth day-to-day running of the tea estates.

“We will strive to revive the tea industry by ensuring export growth, better revenue collection and consumer satisfaction. We are very serious about it. We will also speak to the Center and set up a tea directorate for the overall supervision of the industry,” said Chatterjee. “This agreement is just a stepping stone. A lot of responsibilities lie ahead for us,” he added.

The industries minister said the government would also try to revive the five state-owned tea estates which had been running on losses for years.

“We are happy with today’s agreement,” said Sukra Munda, the chairperson of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad backed-Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.

“The issue had been pending for sometime to be resolved. Now it has been resolved,” said Harihar Acharya, the Terai committee president of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, which is affiliated to the Morcha.

The planters, too, breathed a sigh of relief. “We have proved our sincerity about arriving at a settlement. But because of the revision in the wages, there will be a steep rise in production costs. The state government has promised to help us,” said Sanjoy Bagchi, the assistant secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association.