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Unesco hope blooms in Darjeeling

Calcutta, Jan. 4: The Tea Board has submitted a Rs 516-crore plan to Unesco for rejuvenating the 150-year-old Darjeeling tea gardens and to spruce up infrastructure.

The money sought is part of a bigger, Rs 784-crore blueprint that the board has drawn up to give the estates a facelift. Unesco has been requested to close the funds gap.

The United Nations’ arm has already declared Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) as a heritage property, and has taken up several schemes to upgrade it.

“Since Unesco is interested in Darjeeling and its mainstays, Tea Board has requested it to grant financial assistance to upgrade the Darjeeling tea gardens, which are in bad shape now. The proposal has already been submitted. It is Unesco that will put the plan before multilateral funding agencies and get back to us with the outcome,” said a senior Tea Board official.

The plan, which envisages investments over a span of 10 years, has outlined on five broad areas for initiatives aimed at giving the wilting gardens a new lease of life. These are uprooting and replanting of old tea bushes, rejuvenating the younger tea bushes, soil and water conservation, setting up of hydro-power projects and setting up of a ropeway.

The board official said 85 per cent of the tea plantation area in Darjeeling is at the threshold level. “These tea bushes are in an extremely bad shape. If it is not uprooted and replanted, Darjeeling tea will become a distant dream in a few years from now,” he added.

Of the 20,000-hectare planted area, the board has suggested that bushes in 14,000 hectares will have to be uprooted and replanted.

The cost of going through this exercise will be Rs 386 crore. The board has sought 50 per cent aid from Unesco on this account. The remaining will be borne by the board and the industry equally.

In the other 6,000 hectares, 4,000 hectares must be rejuvenated at an estimated cost of Rs 40 crore. The Tea Board wants Unesco to share 50 per cent of this expenditure. The rest will come from the board and industry.

The board, however, wants the United Nations to pay for the entire sum of Rs 225 crore needed for soil and water conservation projects. “We have no scheme for funding soil and water conservation,” the board official said.

The board has suggested to set up 73 small hydel power projects and 53 irrigation units. The total cost of the project is Rs 61 crore. Out of this Rs 61 crore, 43 crore has been asked from Unesco, Rs 14 crore from the industry and the rest Rs 4 crore will be provided by Tea Board.

The rope-way project, which forms a part of the Tea Board’s plan envisages an investment of Rs 72 crore. The board has asked 50 per cent aid for the project while the industry and the Tea Board will provide the rest in equal ratios.

“Rope-way project will help easy movement of tea from the garden to the factory and vice-versa,” said the official.

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