Calcutta, Sept. 8: The Tea Board of India will issue identity cards to small growers in north Bengal, expecting to repeat the success of a pilot project in Assam last year.
With the ID card, the growers can register with the Tea Board to get subsidies. It will also make it easier for the government to track a grower.
Small growers have raised concerns about the state government not issuing no-objection certificates (NoCs) acknowledging that their erstwhile agricultural land is being used for tea. The certificates will enable them to seek a registration under the Tea Act, 1953, and get the incentives and subsidies offered by the Tea Board.
The Tea Board’s plan to issue ID cards can be seen as an alternative that bypasses the contentious land issue.
“Most small growers do not have a proper ownership deed. The NoC to convert to tea cultivation has not been given to most. So, we endeavoured to collectivise them so they can form groups and attach themselves to leaf factories and get a good price,” said G. Boria, adviser to the Tea Board.
“Once each grower is identified, they can be tracked to the respective group. Quality will be ensured. They will be eligible for collective activity and purchase of inputs as well as open a bank account in the group’s name,” he said.
The card will contain the address of the grower along with the plantation area, phone number, bank account details, quantity and place of supply of green tea leaves with a registration number. Small growers have 10 hectares or less under cultivation.
As part of a survey in Assam, only 7 per cent of 67,000 small growers in the state are registered with the Tea Board. Many do not possess the title deed of land in eastern and Northeastern states, a prerequisite to secure an NoC from the state authorities.
Small growers account for about 33 per cent of domestic output. It is expected to go up to 50 per cent within 10 years. They account for about 30 per cent of the total area under cultivation. Bengal has about 40,000 small growers against a national figure of 2 lakh.
“This (ID cards) will benefit individual growers. Financial institutions have always taken a negative approach to disburse loans. We were also unable to benefit from several state schemes that subsidised equipment,” said Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations.
“Small growers of Bengal have been deprived by the state governments of NoCs. Yet we have invested close to Rs 5 lakh an acre. Around 1.20 lakh acre is cultivated now in North Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling & Coochbehar. The Tea Board will ultimately issue them an identity card,” he added.