| Tea trouble |
Jorhat, Aug. 13: The unrest in the BTAD has hit the small tea growers in the region after the demand for a separate Bodoland regained momentum about a fortnight back.
“Work in most of the gardens has come to a standstill as we are not being able to ferry green leaves to the factories. If normality does not return soon, we are doomed,” the vice-chairman of the Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association, Bishnu Basumatary, told The Telegraph over phone.
Over 65 per cent of the total production of green leaves in the BTAD is ferried to factories in neighbouring West Bengal through National Highway 31 (C) as there are only two “bought-leaf factories” at Kokrajhar, apart from one each at Bongaigaon and Goalpara, which are not enough to meet the supply of green leaves.
The NDFB (P) has called for a 100-hour economic blockade from tomorrow. Basumatary said although the associations calling the strikes and blockades in the BTAD areas had exempted the small tea growers following a request by the association, no vehicle was ready to ferry the products to the factories.
“As vehicles damaged during strikes and protests are not eligible to claim insurance, vehicle-owners are not ready to take the risk,” Basumatary said.
Basumatary, who is the owner of Juji Hajw tea garden in Kokrajhar, said there has also been a shortage of labourers in many gardens as there are no vehicles to ferry the labour force.
“Since small tea growers do not have a permanent workforce, most of them come from nearby organised tea gardens. But since trouble started, workers have stopped coming,” he said. The developments would affect the total production of small tea growers in Assam, who contribute about 30 per cent of the state’s total production.
Assam produces nearly 500 million kg of tea every year.
Small tea growers in BTAD area produce about 15 million kg of green leaves every year.
The vice-president of the association said his garden produced about 78,000kg of green leaves last year and he was expecting the figure to cross 1 lakh this year.
“But look what has happened. I fear that I will not be able to reach last year’s figure,” he said.
Basumatary, who is also an executive member of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Grower's Association , said the organised sector gardens were not feeling the heat of the BTAD unrest like the small tea growers since these gardens have their own labour force and factories.