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Bounty for garden GenX
- Minister unveils schemes for dependants of employees of ailing tea estates

Siliguri, Sept. 11: In a major boost to the ailing tea industry, finance minister Asim Dasgupta today announced several schemes and measures by which the thousands of unemployed youths in the limping gardens would be able to stand on their own feet.

The schemes, which do not have any association with tea-related activities, are meant for the dependants of garden workers, who are going through troubled times.

The finance minister also announced a high-level committee to see that the schemes are implemented through a time-bound programme. He was speaking at a half-day workshop jointly organised by the north Bengal zone of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad.

Senior executives from a number of banks and financial institutions, including Central Bank (the leading bank of the region), SBI, UBI and Nabard, as well as government officials were present. Over 900 representatives from the 47 tea gardens located in the Mahakuma Parishad area and panchayats also converged at Dinabandhu Mancha, the venue of the workshop.

Providing a background to the workshop, CII's north Bengal zonal chairman Kamal K. Mittal said the tea sector had suffered a series of setbacks over the last decade, with competition increasing and profits falling.

'The situation requires a new generation of trained professionals within the garden workers' families who could become self-employed. The workshop would show them the various avenues available, which they can pursue with the help of bank loans. The CII will facilitate training for them and try to create opportunities,' he said.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya claimed he had approached the finance minister and sought CII help in introducing self-employment schemes in the gardens. It was then that Dasgupta gave his keynote address. 'I have not seen such an initiative being taken in any other district. We have to make sure that the objectives are achieved. Now the existing schemes for the formation of self-help groups will have to be extended to the gardens,' he said.

The finance minister then presented his propositions. After a short preamble, he said that in the first year, the target set for all the stakeholders was 4,000 cases of loan disbursement (See chart).

'The targets have to be achievable. For this, a special committee or action group will have to be formed. Headed by the sabhadipati, its convener will be the district magistrate. The district commissioners for animal husbandry, fisheries, agricultural, senior representatives of the banks, Nabard, the CII and garden owners would be members of the committee,' Dasgupta said.

A similar initiative in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling would be taken up, he added. 'Before the pujas, the committee would have to identify the viable and profitable schemes and the beneficiaries. Then, after the pujas, the loans should start flowing,' he added.

'There are 108 branches in the region. That would mean each would have to take up about 15 cases. I am requesting the administration to keep government money in those branches, which are carrying out the schemes. Right now, the banks have almost Rs 2,400 crore of which only 43 per cent has been given out as loan. Even a one per cent increase would be enough for the projects here,' said Dasgupta.

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