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Govt back with tea promises
- Old recommendations discussed at meeting

Calcutta, Feb. 2: This is supposed to be the bright side of the polls: more promises are made and, in the process, a few are also kept.

The Tea Garden Modernisation Fund may be in the list of the few.

Keeping in mind the large votebank in the estates, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government today held a meeting to take stock of the measures that will be introduced to rejuvenate the tea industry of north Bengal.

From now on, growers will be able to avail of the modernisation fund, which, once okayed by the Centre, will provide soft loans for planting new tea bushes.

'The Rs 4,700-crore loan, which will be given by the Tea Board over 15 years, is currently awaiting the government of India's approval. Under the scheme, owners of big gardens will be able to plant new bushes in 2.5 per cent acreage of their gardens, annually,' said commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen.

Chaired by Sen, the meeting was attended by Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee, officials from the labour, finance and land and land reforms departments, planters and trade union representatives.

The government has decided to undertake a survey of small tea growers. Sponsored by the Tea Board, the survey will determine the number of growers, the acreage they are using, the output as well as the number of them regularised so far.

'In order to regulate the tea prices, we are trying to get small growers to register with the Tea Board. Till now, only 2,500 cases have been cleared. A team from Calcutta will leave for Jalpaiguri soon to settle the outstanding cases at the divisional commissioner level,' said Sen.

Small growers who are not allowed to register will have to stop tea cultivation and convert the land to its original use (that is agriculture), he added. Sen also said: 'We're trying to tag each existing (bought-leaf) factory with a group of small growers to ensure that each factory gets its full quota of raw material and the price sharing is in place.'

It was also decided that ration shops will be set up inside gardens to cater to non-working residents of the estates.

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