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Pressure mounts to end tea auction standoff

Calcutta, Feb. 13: Spooked by the loss in revenue, the Bengal government has decided to take strong action if tea sales are disrupted at the auction next week.

The state government has already lost nearly Rs 1 crore in sales tax revenue at the auction level due to disruption of sales in Calcutta and Siliguri.

State commerce ministry officials said: “The Tea Board is in constant touch with us. We thought the buyers at the auction would sort out the problem. Things appeared to be solved when auctions started in January. But the situation changed this week when the buyers disrupted the sales.”

“We are currently watching the situation. We have lost a lot of revenue in the last few weeks. The entire incident is tarnishing the image of the state. All the other five centres are running auctions smoothly. Even Siliguri is holding sales regularly. Only Calcutta has failed to do so,” the official said.

Tea auctions remained suspended for three weeks in Calcutta in January as buyers refused to participate at the auctions in protest against the new Tea Marketing Control Order. Tea sales at Siliguri were also disrupted for two weeks. Sales resumed in Calcutta on January 27. But earlier this week sales were again disrupted at the Calcutta centre.

The state suffered a loss of Rs 60 lakh in sales tax revenue at the auction level due to disruption of sales in Calcutta. The loss from Siliguri was to the tune of Rs 40 lakh.

The Calcutta Tea Traders Association (CTTA) has also decided to take steps to resume sales on Monday. CTTA had to cancel this week’s auction as buyers disrupted the sales.

J. Kalyana Sundaram, secretary of CTTA, said: “We have decided to take steps to resume sales on Monday. We will start announcing the lots from the beginning so that the sale is not disrupted. This is the first time in the history of CTTA that a sale had to be cancelled.”

The tea that is lying at the Calcutta auctions cannot be diverted to Siliguri. The Calcutta auction currently has CTC and dust teas produced in November and December. There is hardly any orthodox or Darjeeling tea left at the Calcutta auctions.

It may be mentioned that certain buyers have moved the Calcutta High Court challenging the new tea order.

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