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