| Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee flanked by Ficci president Y. K. Modi (left) and vice-president Onkar S. Kanwar at the chamber’s executive committee meeting in Calcutta on Thursday. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury
Calcutta, Feb. 5: Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said tea garden workers will have to increase their productivity substantially to help revive an industry reeling under the double-whammy of spiralling input costs and falling prices.
New norms setting the minimum output per person will soon be drawn up in consultation with the management and trade unions.
Producers have asked for a 15-25 per cent increase in productivity. Currently, on an average, a worker plucks 23-24 kgs of tea leaves in eight hours. Companies feel this can be raised by at least 4 kgs.
“I have come to know that regular staff work less in the industry compared with those on contract. Even women work more than men. This situation cannot continue for long,” Bhattacharjee said.
The remark came in response to Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) president Y. K. Modi’s suggestion that non-performers be replaced by those who are willing to perform better. The chief minister was speaking at the chamber’s executive committee meeting.
Tea contributes a substantial amount to the state’s exchequer, besides employing around 3-4 million people directly.
“State commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen is holding talks with tea producers today on productivity and other issues. In the next couple of days, we will discuss the issues with trade unions. We will then come up with new productivity standards for the workers in the tea sector. Without productivity norms the industry cannot survive. It should be a time-bound programme,” Bhattacharjee said.
The state government had set up a tea committee headed by commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen to suggest ways to revive the industry. The committee has submitted its report to the chief minister.
“Productivity has to be increased in all sectors to make them competitive,” Bhattacharjee said.
The chief minister’s call to raise productivity comes two days after finance minister Jaswant Singh announced a special term tea loan in his interim budget to bail out the beleaguered industry. Banks have agreed to extend fresh working capital up to Rs 2 lakh at an interest rate of 9 per cent to the small growers.
Earlier, he said the Toy Park coming up at Salt Lake will be inaugurated on February 14. “Many domestic and foreign companies have taken space in Toy Park. I want to bring in Chinese investments in Toy Park. I am personally in touch with Chinese government officials and party officials for bringing them in the state,” he said.