The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Loan relief to enliven tea

New Delhi, May 10: The Centre is ready with a revival package for the 14 sick tea gardens in Bengal.

The package includes a five-year moratorium on bank loans and waiver of penal interest and fines on provident fund arrears. The Centre will also give loans at subsidised rates to reopen the gardens.

“I have already had preliminary discussions with the finance minister on the issue and the approval of the cabinet committee on economic affairs should come through within a month,” commerce minister Jairam Ramesh told The Telegraph.

The minister will be in Calcutta tomorrow to give finishing touches to the proposal. He will meet representatives of banks and unions, officials of the Bengal government and the tea garden owners.

In his discussions, the minister will tell the state government to follow Kerala’s example of free rations and education and health facilities for the workers.

There were 17 closed gardens in Kerala, of which one has reopened, while nine more will do so by the end of this month. A similar strategy will be followed in Bengal and for two gardens in Assam.

The sick gardens in Bengal are Ramjhora, Katalguri, Chamruchi, Samsing, Bamondanga, Chinchula, Raipur, Sikarpur-Bhandarpur, Bharn-orbari, Raimatong, Kalchini, Red Bank, Surendranagar and Dheklapara.

The outstanding loans of the 33 gardens in the three states are Rs 184 crore. These will be converted into term loans with a moratorium of five years. The recovery of the principal sum will start from the sixth year.

Ramesh said the penal rate on loans would be waived, while the interest dues would be shared equally by the banks, Centre and the gardens.

“The simple interest on these loans works out to Rs 80.7 crore and the government’s one-third share is Rs 27 crore.”

The Centre will also waive the outstanding loans of the Tea Board to the gardens, which is around Rs 3.9 crore, as well as the damages of Rs 18.70 crore imposed by provident fund authorities.

Ramesh said the gardens would become eligible for loans and subsidies from the Tea Board under the special purpose tea fund scheme once their balance sheets were regularised.

The minister will request the Bengal government to emulate Kerala in providing additional facilities to the gardens.

He said Kerala has set up a body to implement the relief measures for the workers. There is a free weekly quota of 5kg of foodgrain for the workers. The state also organises medical camps for them.

The government also provides free text books and uniforms to the children of the workers.

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