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Moves to combat dry spell in Barak gardens

Silchar, May 6: The Tea Research Association has asked plantations in the Barak valley to build large water reservoirs, bore deep wells and invest in rain water harvesting to meet the challenge thrown up by droughts.

The senior adviser and scientist of the regional office of the association at Silcoorie near here, Subhashis Sannigrahi, told The Telegraph about some urgent measures to be adopted in the plantations.

There are around 105 tea gardens in the Barak valley.

Possible measures include digging of water reservoirs, rainwater harvesting during the monsoons, digging deep wells from which water can be transported through sprinkler irrigation systems to the bushes, and planting of more shade trees as a safeguard against extreme heat conditions.

According to the tea planters and associations, the dry spell, marked by occasional showers, has been acute.

There has been an average temperature of 37.3 degrees Celsius with little or no rain at a time when the tea bushes need, alternatively, a sunny atmosphere and a cool lingering night interspersed with rainfall.

At present, there seems to be no respite from the excruciating heat wave sweeping through the Barak region.

Though large masses of cloud had gathered in the sky during the past week, there was no heavy rainfall to provide relief.

The Cachar College climate observatory recorded only 12mm of rain in the last week.

The secretary of the Cachar branch of the Tea Association of India, Kalyan Mitra, described the dry spell in the three districts — Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi — as “conditions of drought”.

His counterpart in the Surma valley branch of the Indian Tea Association, Bhaskar Kalita, chose to describe it as a “near-drought situation”.

According to Mitra, the “full-scale drought” could be quantified at 40 per cent while Kalita, in a press release, had put the devastation and the consequent crop loss between 32 and 35 per cent.

Sannigrahi said the rainfall in three months, from February this year, was a mere 114.1mm, compared to 499.1mm recorded during the same period last year.

The dry spell led to a drop in production of first and second flush tea of Cachar CTC this year, estimated at 40 per cent of the total crop, against 21,80,703kg in the same time last year, according to senior officials of the regional office of the Indian Tea Board here.

The tea of this region is known for its strong liquor and its capacity to blend easily with other kinds.

The output of tea in the Barak valley gardens was 50.39 million kg, 52.37 million kg and a dismal figure of 47.62 million kg, in three previous years.

Sannigrahi also said the average rainfall estimate in the Barak tea gardens had plummeted to an all-time low of 1,800mm last year from the 2,800mm registered in 1996.

Tea board sources here added that because of scanty rainfall in the Barak tea gardens, the soil moisture in the nurseries and tea fields had also decreased.

Moreover, pests like red spiders and green flies had also surfaced among the plants.