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Bulk tea traders snap supply line

Siliguri, Jan. 14: They had stopped buying tea from the auction houses earlier and today, bulk buyers of tea stopped selling, too.

As a mark of protest against the Centre’s Tea Marketing Control Order, 2003, the bulk buyers called for a nationwide tea trade bandh on January 20.

Bulk tea buyers across India are annoyed with the Union commerce ministry’s order asking them to abide by the marketing manual, which makes it mandatory for them to enroll with the Tea Board and provide details on their returns and purchases every fortnight.

The order also tries bridge the gap between the auction prices and retail rates of tea leaves.

The buyers have described the order as an attempt to give the Tea Board an “upper hand” over the buyers.

The buyers here closed ranks and suspended the sale of their existing stocks for an indefinite period from today. “We had stopped purchasing tea from the auction centres last week. From today, we are not going to clear the stocks that are there in the godowns,” Chowdhury said.

“We are trying to drum up support from our counterparts in the other regions to make the strike a success,” said Srawan Chowdhury, secretary of Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association.

“The buyers have succeeded in halting the tea auction processes in Siliguri, Calcutta, Guwahati, Kochi, Coimbatore and Kunoor,” said Chowdhury.

The retailers are, however, unlikely to be affected. Tea will still be available to the consumer to beat the chill with a hot cuppa.

Though the supply line was snapped, the industry watchers did not predict a rise in the retail market prices. “The retailers are well-stocked, which would last for at least three-four months. The general consumer will not be harassed,” they said.

The protests of the bulk buyers have met with mixed responses from the industry. “Their decision not to purchase tea leaves is detrimental to the health of the industry, which is already reeling under a crisis. If the producers are not able to sell their produce, they will be unable to pay wages to their labourers and face other financial problems. Around 274 manufacturing units are likely to be affected,” said Aditya Anta Chatterjee, additional secretary of the Terai Indian Planters’ Association.

“The buyers should not have taken such a drastic decision on their own. They should have had discussions at all levels of the industry,” he added.

Samir Roy, general secretary of the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, said: “In any case, this being a lean period, production is already low. The reckless protest drive will not make an alarming difference.”

“They are against the order as they are scared that once they are registered with the board, they will come under the scanner and their unethical practices will come to the fore. A handful cannot dictate terms,” he added.

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