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Privatisation pill for gardens

Silchar, Jan. 21: Buoyed by a sudden upward spiral in the output of crush, tear, curl (CTC) tea and a surge in the average selling price of per kg of the product in Cachar tea plantations in the last calendar year, efforts are on to privatise some uneconomic and sick gardens to turn around their fortunes.

Last year, the annual production of tea has leapt up to 49.5 million kg against 48 million kg registered in 2011, and the average selling price has now stabilised at Rs 115 per kg at the auctions, a jump from Rs 90 per kg in 2011.

According to both the tea industry and the tea labour union sources here, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi had last month cleared a proposal to explore the possibilities of the revival of the fortunes of three tea gardens in Karimganj district, owned by Assam Tea Corporation Ltd (ATCL), which are now in dire straits because of “mismanagement and lack of the funds”.

These gardens are Longai, Isa Bheel and Bidyanagar, which together hold 3,519 hectares of land conducive to tea cultivation and produce an average of 18.2 lakh kg of processed CTC tea yearly.

According to a report compiled by the Intuc-led Barak Cha Sramik Union earlier this month, Gogoi has disclosed to a three-member delegation of the union, led by its general secretary and former state minister D.P. Goala, that he had already asked state industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi to take immediate steps for awarding these one-time profit-making tea estates to private concerns to ensure their revival.

The assistant general secretary of the union, D.N. Baroi, yesterday said the delegation assured the chief minister that it would volunteer its help to the state government in regard to its attempts at “privatisation” of these three prime gardens, a measure aimed at bolstering their economy.

In another co-ordinated move by the Cachar district administration and the labour union, an once-affluent Jirighat tea estate, a property of the Calcutta-headquartered Jirighat Native Tea Company Ltd, was handed over to a private industry house in Andhra Pradesh in an attempt to achieve the turnaround of this sick plantation.

The Hyderabad-based company, Emmel Infra-Properties India Private Limited, which has interests in hotels, warehouses and distilleries, has branched out in its first attempt at backing a tea plantation.

Sukhendu Dutta, the Emmel-appointed new manager of Jirighat tea garden, 45km from here, told The Telegraph over phone last night that his company has already pumped in Rs 1.5 crore to clear bank loan arrears and would also invest another Rs 3 crore to meet the debts accruing from the unpaid provident funds and gratuity of retired labourers to make this sick plantation a profit-making one again.