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170-year-old tea industry in Assam at crossroads

 

GUWAHATI: Notwithstanding the challenges faced by the tea producers in Assam that accounts for over 55% of the total tea produced in the country, the tea industry has been able to increase the volume export to 241 million Kg in the year 2017, which is at par the level of the year 1981.

 

The Chairman of Indian Tea Association (ITA) and the Consultative Committee of Planters’ Association (CCPA), Ajom Monem, however, termed the increased export volume insufficient and informed that the industry has set short-term export target of 275 million kg and long-term target of 300 million kg per year.

He points out that producers in Assam valley region, where the highest quality tea is produced in the world, have to play a key role in in collaboration with the government to preserve, promote the orthodox brand of Assam Tea that is hand crafted and equipped with GI.

“What we need an umbrella Assam tea brand like ‘Assam Exotica’ to promote Assam tea as its true ambassador in the global arena,” Monem said in the two-day tea conclave organized here by the State Innovative and Transformation Aayog (SITA) to discuss issues and challenges before the 170-year-old tea industry in Assam.

The CCPA chairman pointed out that growth of small tea growers whose number has risen to over one lakh, had brought a paradigm shift in the traditional structure of tea industry in the state. He underlined the vast differences in cost of production of tea for small tea growers and the conventional big tea gardens in the state.

He also blamed the non-remunerative price realization on auction bench mark prices and called for a drastic overhauling of the tea auction system to facilitate remunerative prices for producers.

“Digitalisation has though reduced the high cost of transaction in the tea auction process, the benefit has not been passed onto the tea producers,” Monem said and his opinion was endorsed by the non-executive chairman of the Tea Board of India and a noted tea planter in Assam, Prabhat K  Bezboruah.

The Tea Board Chairman pointed out that because of inadequate support from the Centrl government, the Tea Board had failed to hand hold the tea producers properly. He underlined the need for appointment of a permanent chairman or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Tea Board by doing away with the current practice of appointing part-time chairman who are usually joint secretary rank officers in the central government holding multiple responsibilities.

The Tea Board chairman further pointed out that the tea production cost in Assam rose by Rs 6 a kg in the event of increase in the tea workers’ daily wage by just Rs 10 per head in Assam which puts the industry on an uneven playing field vis-a-vis its competitors in rest of the world as well as in rest of the country like in South India.

He also called for creation of alternative employment options for burgeoning extra tea workers in the state as the tea gardens in the state were fast running out of option to provide additional employment.

Chief Minister Sarbananda  Sonowal after listening to the captains of the tea industry, called upon the tea producers to pull up their socks and put up a joint efforts to beat the challenges , that he termed as a passing phase, in order to achieve sustainability in quality production, remunerative prices besides discharging their social responsibilities.

“The tea industry which is using large tracts of fertile land of the state must improve the production level sharply. The industry needs to come out of its traditional way of operation and opt for using latest technology and scientific methods for tea production and cultivation,” Sonowal said while assuring all possible help from the government.

He pointed out that the government had already embarked on providing mobile medical units in tea estates, setting up schools besides building roads through tea gardens.

State Labour Minister, Pallab Lochan Das, while acknowledging the challenges and the tough time faced by the tea industry, said that the industry still had to comply with provisions of the Plantation Labour Act  and stop growing tendency of nonpayment of provident fund contribution for its employees. “The state government will everything possible to help the tea industry, but will not tolerate noncompliance of Plantation Labour Act,” he said.



 

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