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ATCL runs into bad weather, seeks aid

Jorhat, Nov. 8: The state-run Assam Tea Corporation Limited (ATCL) has decided to seek financial assistance from the state government to tide over the crisis created by reduced tea production following inclement weather.

The corporation’s sources told The Telegraph that the state’s tea production, including that in ATCL’s 15 gardens, had fallen during the past few months because of temperature fluctuations created by incessant rain. This has created financial problems for the corporation because of which it has decided to seek financial assistance from Dispur to pay the salaries of its employees and continue work in the gardens during November and December.

According to information available with the tea industry, bad weather followed by pest attacks had brought down tea production by about 11 per cent in the state this year compared to the corresponding period — January to September — last year. Incessant rain and less sunshine hours, resulting in a fall in night temperature, had hit production hard.

ATCL sources said there was an estimated production shortfall of about 10 lakh kg of green leaves in its estates this year.

The sources said the corporation’s board of directors, in an emergent meeting held at Guwahati today to discuss the issue, decided to approach the government and seek help to tide over the crisis.

The sources said around Rs 7 crore would be required to run the gardens for the months of November and December, during which the corporation should generate an estimated turnover of Rs 4-5 crore. The board thus decided to request Dispur to release Rs 2 crore at the earliest to help tide over the crisis.

Sources said a Rs 12.50 increase in daily wages of tea workers this year following an agreement between the industry and Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha in March had also led to increased expenditure. The agreement was put to effect retrospectively, making the daily wage Rs 84 from January this year. However, the corporation, which has about 15,000 permanent workers in its 15 estates spread across the state, had partially hiked the wages because of financial constraints, paying Rs 79 instead.

Sources said the corporation had been paying bonus to its workforce in the past few years, with the government sharing the burden. Last year, however, it paid a bonus of 17 per cent on its own.

This year, too, it had agreed to pay bonus to its employees in two instalments at the rate of 18 per cent, with the government chipping in for only 11 per cent of the 12 per cent paid before Durga Puja.

ATCL, which has been ailing for years and had gone bankrupt around the turn of the century, had a turnover of only Rs 14 crore when it was revived in 2005. This had increased to Rs 36 crore in 2009 and crossed the Rs 50-crore mark in 2010, following a series of revival steps initiated by the management and strong government initiative.

The situation, however, had gone downhill last fiscal as the market remained stagnant and green tea leaf prices fell sharply.