The West Bengal government is treading the cautious path in clearing the Tata Tea proposal to form a cooperative for running its plantations and practise alternate cropping across its four tea estates in the state.
More than a week after the proposal was made, top Tata Tea officials on May 8 met West Bengal’s commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen and other state government officials to get a government view on their plans.
It is learnt that the state government is yet to take a stand on the issue mainly because it has to amend the state’s Tea Plantation Act to allow alternate cropping as has been desired by the Tatas, besides convincing the labour unions about the fruitfulness of such a venture.
Currently, the lease agreement clearly debars tea companies from using the land for anything else but tea plantation.
A top Indian Tea Association (ITA) official told Hindustan Times that since these are “sensitive” issues, the state government plans to handle them more conscientiously, bearing in mind the bitter experiences it has had in Singur and Nandigram. According to the official, the state government will soon take up the issue with respective trade unions but will go about it in a manner that it does not trigger any controversy.
It is also learnt that during the meeting, Sen did not promise anything to Tata Tea’s general manager-finance, Anju Madeka as to whether the state government would allow Tata Tea to replicate here its new and successful business model in South India and Assam.
Tata Tea’s proposal to the state government centres on utilising the idle land in its four tea gardens in the Dooars region at Bata Bari (300 hactres), Damdum (736 ha), Nowera Nuddy (250 ha) and Rungamuttee (750 ha). All the gardens produce only CTC tea with an annual production of 4.3 m kgs. Tata Tea’s proposal of non-tea activity is also expected to generate additional employment. The company plans to start cultivation of vegetables on these tea estates.
Tata Tea has also informed the state government that it intends to change the gardens’ ownership pattern as part of the company’s restructuring exercise. While the company will hold 26 per cent in the plantation company, workers and/or financial institutions will hold the rest.
Tata Tea’s presentation also showed how the company is already conducting alternative farming in south India and Assam and also making profits from the same.
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