Dooars tea gardens facing tough times
Already two more tea gardens have closed down since HT came out last week about the pitiful condition of the workers at the closed tea gardens, reports Rakeeb Hossain.Updated: Apr 20, 2007, 21:37 IST
The tea gardens of Dooars are possibly facing one of its toughest times ever. Already two more tea gardens have closed down since Hindustan Times came out last week about the pitiful condition of the workers at the closed tea gardens.
And if the associations of the tea planters are to be believed, the number would only increase in the coming days unless the government comes up with some concrete financial relief packages for the gardens.
For, according to the planters' associations, the tea gardens of Dooars are no longer yielding any profits and more than half of the running tea gardens are now finding it hard to make both ends meet. And if they continue to sustain financial losses this way, more gardens might have to declare closer---sooner than later.
According to PK Bhattacharya, secretary of the Dooars Branch of India Tea Association (DBITA) that has over 100 members among the 153 set tea gardens of Jalpaiguri district, the returns from the tea gardens are "dwindling and its no longer profitable to run the gardens here anymore. And tell me who would like to continue suffering losses year after year knowing fully well that there is little hope for revival. Show me one new investor coming in during the last few years."
Bhattacharya explained that now-a-days production cost per kilogram of tea ranges between Rs 70 and Rs 78 while the tea is fetching a price between Rs 65 and 68 and that's largely because most tea gardens have not been able to keep pace with the changing times resulting in tea quality at most Dooars gardens falling and production cost increasing considerably.
"And moreover, in the recent years, the tea prices in the international export market have gone down which took its toll on the Dooars tea gardens also. Dooars alone contributes nearly 23 per cent of India's total tea production and with the fall in international price many gardens found it hard to sustain the losses. In the mean time, the cost of production has increased with the increase in workers wages, price of chemical fertilizer and other agricultural material going northwards. And then there is the social burden on the planters as they are bound by law to provide rice and wheat at a cheap cost even though they have to purchase it from the open market," said RK Maheswari, honorary secretary of Indian Tea Planters Association (ITPA).
Maheswari said that though everybody is blaming the tea garden owners for defaulting in paying wages and provident funds, but no one is considering that the accumulated interest on the loans taken by the planters to run the gardens in this hard time alone adds more than Rs 10 to 15 per kilogram in the cost of production eating away whatever little profits could have been there.
"And such is the situation today that unless the central and the state government come up with some financial relief measures for the tea industry and specific packages for the tea gardens of Dooars, things are not going to improve on its own. If the central government can announce Rs 500 crore package for the sugar industry, why can't it do a similar thing for the ailing tea industry which is going through a tough time," said Bhattacharya.
Meanwhile Maheswari adds that with more than 50 per cent running tea gardens sick and bearing heavy financial losses, if the government doesn't come to their rescue, more gardens are bound to close down in the near future.