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Bad roads slow tea ride to auction
- Produce misses sale dates because of potholed highways

Sept. 18: Tea growers in the Dooars said that they were finding it tough to take their stock for auction to Siliguri on time because of the bad condition of NH31C and NH31D.

When roads were good, the tea used to be dispatched to the Siliguri auction centre 15-16 days before the auction, which happens every Thursday. Now, sending the tea from Dooars even 20 days ahead is not enough as the consignment is almost certain to miss the auction.

“Planters in Terai are facing problems of dispatching tea to the warehouses in Siliguri as roads like NH31C are in bad conditions from Bagdogra and onwards. However, situation is more pathetic for the planters in Dooars belt,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA).

“First of all, Siliguri cannot be accessed through NH31 via Sevoke because of restrictions on traffic over the Coronation Bridge since January this year. So, our trucks were taking the Gazoldoba route (via the Teesta barrage) but it is also in a bad shape. The final option is via NH31D, which is also in a miserable condition,” Bhattacharjee said.

According to the DBITA secretary, the truck owners who ferry tea to the Siliguri warehouses are either not ready to take the tea bags and cartons via this route or are charging exorbitant rates.

“The usual rate has gone up by over 50 per cent. For example, if we needed to pay Rs 8 per kilometre for a consignment earlier, now the truckers are charging around Rs 15,” Bhattacharjee said.

Tea industry sources said the tea to be put up for auction — held every Thursday at the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre — has to reach warehouses 14 days ahead of the date of sale.

“When the road conditions were good, we used to send tea 15-16 days ahead of the sale date. But now, there is shortage of vehicles, overcharging and trucks ending up with broken axles. All these have made the transportation very uncertain. The payment mechanism is steady but very often, our members are finding it tough to ferry the goods before the deadline and missing the sale date,” a tea industry source said.

“Sending the tea to Siliguri even 20 days before the auction is not enough sometimes.”

“ The delay in sales by a week means a delay in realisation of sales proceeds. On the other hand, transport costs are on the rise,” an industry stakeholder said.

In the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre, around 2.5 million kg of tea are sold on the weekly sale date, with the annual total sales being over 90 million kg.