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Bengal package for tea

Calcutta, Sept. 15: The Bengal government will announce a relief package for closed tea gardens soon, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta said.

The Centre had earlier announced a Rs 60-crore package for the closed gardens of Bengal, Assam and Kerala.

Dasgupta, along with state commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, met Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh here today.

The package will include a waiver of electricity dues for the next three years. Stamp duty and registration fees will also be reduced by up to 75 per cent for new owners, Dasgupta said. There may also be a provision to pay outstanding electricity dues in instalments.

The Bengal government has already waived cess and agricultural tax on tea.

The package is also expected to allow surplus land for tourism and other activities. Only 24 acres can be utilised for such activities, which is only a small percentage of tea estates that cover hundreds of hectares.

“For the first time, the Centre and the state governments will be working on a proposal to provide support to the sick gardens in these three states. This will be done to check incipient weakness so that the gardens do not face closure,” said Ramesh.

If the owners failed to re-open the gardens in three months, the Centre would invoke Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act of 1953. The section empowers the Centre to take over the management of gardens without investigation.

In two weeks, a central committee, with representatives from each of the three states, will submit a report on the modalities for invoking Section 16E.

“Of the 13 closed gardens, we expect two to open by October. Another three should open by the end of the year,” Ramesh added.

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