The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Auction breather for brew block

Siliguri, Jan. 6: Five days after bringing tea trade in Siliguri to a grinding halt, warehouse owners here have decided to partially call off their indefinite strike.

After an informal meeting with S.K. Saria, a planter and the vice-chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC), owners of the 22 warehouses here have decided to allow the delivery of tea stocked in their godowns.

STAC chairman Ravi Agarwal said he was happy with the development and hoped the strike will be withdrawn completely in a few days.

'Owing to pressure from the STAC and different sections of the industry, we have decided to allow the delivery of the goods in the larger interests of the tea sector,' said Nand Kishore Agarwal, president of Siliguri Tea Warehousing Association.

'All those who have stocked their consignments of tea, either sold or unsold, can take their goods away. But we will not take any new arrivals from the gardens and all our activities, including sampling, will remain suspended until our demand for a hike in the charges (for stocking tea) is met and new rates fixed.'

The warehouse owners are demanding an increase in rent, the last agreement regarding which was reached in 2000. According to existing rules, the rate revision should be done every two years.

According to Agarwal, there are about two lakh packages (each weighing 30-35 kg) of unsold tea and 50,000 packages of sold tea lying in the warehouses.

While the news brings cheer to both buyers and sellers ' as trade will resume with the release of the held-up tea ' the decision of the warehouse-owners to refuse to accept new arrivals poses a serious threat to the entire auction process.

According to STAC rules, tea can be auctioned only if it is physically present in the warehouses. 'This agitation, if not lifted on time, will jeopardise the whole auction system,' industry sources said.

'If there is no tea in the warehouses, there will be no auction. Planters will sell tea through private sales and consequently it will become difficult to put pressure on the warehouses to completely withdraw the agitation and the strike will linger,' the sources added.

Saria said the STAC is taking care to see that auctions are not disrupted. 'The sampling for the next sale has already been done, so next Thursday's auction will take place as usual,' he said. 'Disruption of further sales will take place only if the strike continues.'

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