KOLKATA: The Tea Board has proposed a Rs 100-crore relief package for tea estates in the Darjeeling hills, where production has resumed after nearly three months of shutdown due to an agitation for a separate state. Board chairman PK Bezbaruah said the proposal will be put before commerce minister Suresh Prabhu next week.
Plucking and other operations at the 87 tea estates in the region had come to a halt after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s strike call on June 9 demanding a separate state, called Gorkhaland. The growers of Darjeeling tea had sought Rs 325 crore as assistance to prune the overgrown bushes and prepare for production in April. But the demand was not accepted by the board which, on advice based on the Tea Research Association’s survey of the problem, cut it to Rs 100 crore.
“We had received from Darjeeling Tea Association the size of the relief package. We had then asked the Tea Research Association to carry out a package based on the damages caused to the bushes and the estates in the absence of plucking and pruning for more than three months,” said Bezbaruah.
“We will submit the package next week to the Union commerce minister.” He stressed that financial assistance should be given revitalising and rejuvenating the tea bushes, and not for the revenue loss that the companies have incurred. The relief package, however, has failed to bring cheer to the industry. “It should be at least about Rs 200 crore,” said a planter in Darjeeling.
Sanjay Bansal, chairman of Ambootia Group, said, “The strike, the first time in the history of Darjeeling tea industry, has wiped out almost 70 per cent of the annual tea production, making all the 87 tea estates sick.”
Bansal said the tea bushes are overgrown and there is the problem of weeds.
Removing of weeds and pruning of the bushes will take a few months. Normally, 20 per cent of the tea bushes in Darjeeling are pruned every year, and in this way the entire area is pruned over five years. This year, however, since all the tea bushes have overgrown, 100 per cent of the tea bushes will be pruned. Therefore, there will be less production of first flush and second flush teas in 2018, Bansal said.