Darjeeling, Jan. 19: The government has agreed to the restructuring of the cinchona plantations — its largest venture in the hills — according to the recommendations of global consultants McKinsey.
Darjeeling district magistrate Hirdesh Mohan today said the state’s Standing Committee on Industries had, “in principle”, decided to implement the proposals tabled by the firm for self-sustainability of the plantations.
The cinchona plantations, spread over an area of 26,000 hectares across the Kalimpong and Kurseong sub-divisions, employ approximately 5,000 labourers, 1,000 staff members and about 52 officers.
Over the past few years, the government has been suffering a loss of about Rs 24 crore annually, with revenue from the plantations yielding only Rs 1 crore.
Sources in the administration said the government’s decision to restructure the plantations will help them, and the 40,000 people who depend on them, stay afloat.
“Though the government has been bearing a huge loss, it wants to ensure that the people in the area are not adversely affected,” an official said.
McKinsey has proposed that cinchona, from whose bark quinine is extracted, be cultivated on only 2,000 hectares. The surplus labour force should be encouraged to take up cultivation of oranges, cardamom and ginger in the remaining area. The government will provide financial and technical support for an initial period of five years.
The sources said efforts would be made to retain most of the staff and the officers of the plantations. “However, a few of them may be given the VRS option.”
The restructure decision was taken at a meeting in Calcutta in July, attended by the ministers for land and land reforms, municipal affairs, forest and horticulture, the principal secretaries of the departments and the Darjeeling district magistrate.