| Demand-supply gap |
Jorhat, Sept. 19: The Assam Tea Planters’ Association today sent an SOS to Dispur, calling for its intervention to stem a possible adverse fallout of the situation emerging out of erratic supply of gas to Upper Assam tea factories since over a month now.
The association, one of the largest and oldest tea growers’ body of the state, has expressed fears that given the slowdown in the tea production and the subsequent economic impact, factories could witness law and order problems during Puja bonus time.
Most of the garden-based and bought-leaf factories in the districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and some in Sivasagar district run only on natural gas, which is supplied by the Oil India Limited (OIL) through the Assam Gas Company Limited (AGCL). Over 350 tea factories depend on gas, of which nearly 30 per cent of the factories in different belts of the three districts have been facing problems because of irregular supply since over a month.
The association, in its message sent to the government through Upper Assam commissioner S.I. Hussain, said the situation had worsened in the last two days, with gas supply to many factories being completely cut off, disrupting production of tea and resulting in huge losses.
The communiqué said, “If the situation continues, many gardens might be forced to suspend engagement of temporary workers, which will have a ripple effect on the small tea growers of the region as factories have already reduced the quantum of green leaf purchase because of disruption in tea production.”
The association’s additional secretary Anjan Bhuyan told The Telegraph that the quality of tea, which had already been affected, would be hit to a larger degree if the plucking cycle gets disturbed and the leaves get older because of extended plucking rounds.
Bhuyan said the cash flow position, too, would be hampered in many estates during this peak season and if the situation remained unchanged, labour unrest arising out of delayed or erratic Puja bonus payment might lead to law and order problems. “We, therefore, request the government to intervene in the matter to resolve the problem to avoid a crisis.”
Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers’ Association chairman C.K. Gohain said irregular gas supply was affecting tea production and leading to losses, as green leaf was a perishable commodity. He said in the past one week, gas supply in three different belts of the districts had either been completely stopped or could not be continued as gas pressure had fallen to zero in the pipelines.
Upper Assam commissioner S.I. Hussain said he was in touch with the parties concerned to resolve the problem at the earliest and had also informed Dispur about it. “Yesterday, I had a meeting at Tinsukia with top officials of OIL and AGCL and the district administrations and police of the three concerned districts to evolve a mechanism to check the frequent strikes and blockades called by different local organisations that hit production of oil and gas.”
Hussain said on September 7, industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi had convened a meeting at Dibrugarh with all stakeholders of tea industry, including OIL and AGCL officials and had directed him to carry out discussions with all parties.
OIL spokesperson Tridip Hazarika, while admitting the problem, said it was not because of shortage of gas reserves or OIL’s inability to produce the required amount of gas; the primary reason behind the problem was gas grid disturbance that was caused by two factors.
For one, he said frequent strikes and blockades led to suspension of gas production, which took time to get back to normal. Sometimes, the required production level was not reached in a given timeframe, leading to short supply.
On the other hand, he said, as gas could not be stored, production depended on the demand, which was decided for specific periods based on procurement agreements between AGCL and consumers. “However, while on the one hand, some customers do not collect the gas they had committed to purchase, leading to shutdown in production, some consumers, on the other, exceed their quota, creating imbalance in the gas grid.”
AGCL officials, however, could not be reached for comment.