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Minister potion to get tea on track

Jalpaiguri, July 9: Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industries, today came out with a slew of proposals to boost the Indian tea industry.

At a meeting at the local tea auction centre hall with stakeholders of the industry, Ramesh discussed important issues like closed and abandoned tea estates of north Bengal, problems faced by small tea-growers and the pathetic condition of the auction centre in Jalpaiguri

'We tried to address the key issues that are creating problems for this century-old industry in north Bengal,' Ramesh said at a press meet after the meeting.

'We have chalked out specific plans to address them and have passed on instructions to officials of the Tea Board and the district administration to take up some issues that can be solved at their level,' he added.

On the 15 closed tea estates, Ramesh said: 'We want to make it clear that nothing has been done so far on the part of the Centre, state or Tea Board in redressing the problem that persists.'

'We have asked the district administration to take up five or six such estates, and send recommendations to me within a month,' he added.

The problem of poor tea inflow over the past one and a half years at Jalpaiguri tea auction centre, which the minister referred to as a 'haunted house,' was discussed at the meeting.

'There are a few options to revive the auction centre here. First, the warehousing infrastructure needs to be developed to store more tea. Second, it is essential to render some fiscal incentives to sellers, buyers and brokers to attract them to this centre,' he said. 'To ensure that the state government takes an initiative, I will write to the chief minister soon.'

He also indicated that his ministry would take up the issue with big tea producing houses like Andrew Yule, Duncans, Goodricke and Tata to confirm that they send their produce here.

The minister declared that his ministry would take steps to open cooperative-based tea processing units in the small tea sector.

'We are aware that small tea-growers do not get remunerative prices for their leaves here and at many times, questions have been raised over the quality of tea produced in the bought-leaf factories,' he said.

'To check this problem in Assam, we have thought of opening cooperative-based factories which would be funded by the Tea Board. Similar proposals for at least five factories can be considered for north Bengal,' Ramesh said.

In a bid to check malpractices in the international tea industry, he said the Centre, in conjunction with the Tea Board, would come up with a separate logo for the Terai and Dooars tea, which would be a first step towards development of the Geographical Indicator (GI) status like Darjeeling or Nilgiri teas.

Ramesh announced tea marketing centres would be opened in Egypt and Iran on public-private partnership basis.

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