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Small tea growers in north Bengal prepare to set up own processing units

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Kolkata: Complaining about the abnormally low price for their yields, small tea growers in north Bengal’s Terai and Dooars area are now seeking help from the union government to set up their own processing units to reduce their dependency on estate and bought leaf factories (BLFs) in the region.

Small tea growers (STGs) – who sell their green plucked leaves to these processing factories – alleged that the payment from the bought tea leaf factories for their produce is much too low. The BLFs do not own any gardens but buy the green plucked leaves from the small tea growers, process them and sell it to packers and blenders.

“While the production cost in north Bengal is as high as Rs. 12.78 per kg, we only get Rs. 5-7 per kg on selling to the BLFs. We cannot sell tea in the auctions, as a result of which we are not able to know how much our teas actually fetch in the markets,” Bijoygopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association (CISTA), told IANS.

According to a majority of the small tea planters, self-owned micro-small garden factories will help reduce their dependency on the BLFs and hence improve their revenues and profitability.

He alleged the 137 BLFs in the region are forcefully enforcing their own quality standards, disregarding the norms of the Tea Board, which is resulting in the STGs getting low incomes.

Sanjay Dhanuti, president of the North Bengal Tea Producers Association – comprising the BLFs – said the prices are dependent on the quality of leaves, which varies across gardens and flush seasons.

“If the stock has 20 percent count of good quality green leaves, it can fetch between Rs. 10.5-12 per kg while a 35 percent fine count can fetch Rs. 13 per kg. However, for produce which is of low quality, it goes around the market, for as low as Rs. 7 per kg and nobody is willing to buy it”, Dhanuti told IANS.

This problem, however, does not persist for the small tea growers in Darjeeling, who get a fair price for their yield, selling the leaves at Rs.35 to Rs.40 a kg to the BLFs.

The STG association has written to union Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, highlighting their concerns.

“There is a lack of transparency in terms of how the BLFs and the estate factories sell the made tea and the price at which they sell it. The price of tea fluctuates so much that during the peak season time it reduces to Rs.3-Rs.5 a kg”, the letter said.

Chakraborty said lack of their own processing units, remote location of the small-scale gardens and the perishable nature of the green leaves are the primary reasons for their woes.

While the government has already sanctioned a 25 percent subsidy to set up micro-small processing units for the STG’s gardens, the industry body has asked the minister to step up the monitoring process by the Tea Board while procuring or buying the processing machines, besides expressing other concerns.

“There are nearly 52 companies which have mushroomed to sell their machinery to the micro-small processing units despite having no credentials to produce good quality machines. The Tea Board need to check their quality and durability before disbursing any subsidy,” Chakraborty said.

The ministry had allocated Rs.200 crore ($30 million) during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17) for the development of the country’s small tea planters. The small tea growers are however wary about the machinery subsidy reaching the BLFs or gardens.

“The first priority for the subsidy needs to be the collectives set-up by STGs and the proposed factories need to be given only to the actual small tea planter who has the capacity to process his own yield,” Chakraborty said.

Tea growers in the region said ensuring this will not replicate the existing scenario between the STGs and BLFs.

According to CISTA, in case the factories are allotted to planters who do not have sufficient cultivable area or yield, the planter in the long run may himself become another BLF which may further jeopardize the trade.

The Tea Board has also taken steps to secure the interests of small tea growers.

“We have introduced the minimum benchmark price which defines the minimum price payable to the STGs for green leaf purchase. This varies across regions and violation of the prescribed price may eventually result in cancellation of a factory’s license,” Chandra Shekhar Mitra, deputy director of tea development at the Tea Board, told IANS.

To promote tea output, the Tea Board has also abolished the compulsory notarised declaration on cultivation practices, standards and management of personnel from tea gardens to avail of the subsidies and replaced this with self-attested declarations.

(Avishek Rakshit, IANS)

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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.