| Kokrajhar tea estate. Picture by UB Photos |
Jorhat, May 6: Man and nature have held the tea gardens in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) to ransom forcing growers to knock on the doors of the Tea Board for compensation.
The tea gardens in the BTAD were hit hard by the prolonged drought this season with almost no production in the month of April. Adding to the woes of the planters is the on-going violence, which is set to bring disaster.
“There was no plucking of tea leaves in April this season because of the drought and now the violence has started. We will be doomed this year if the violence continues,” the vice-president of the Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association, Bishnu Basumatary, told The Telegraph today.
Basamutary also owns a tea garden — Juji Hajw — in Kokrajhar district.
Tea gardens in Kokrajhar, headquarters of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), alone have incurred a loss of Rs 2.5 crore in the month of April, as there were no leaves in the tea bushes because of the drought-like condition. In the month of April last year, the 250-odd small tea gardens in the district had produced about 14 lakh kg of green leaf.
The small tea growers in Kokrajhar district today held a meeting to discuss the prevailing situation in the tea gardens.
Basumatary said although it had rained in the last few days and gardens were expecting a harvest in the next few days, the violence has come as a big blow.
“If the violence continues for the next few days we would not be able to carry out plucking of leaves as labourers would not turn up for work. Moreover, there would be no vehicles to carry the leaves to the factories,” he said.
Over 65 per cent of the total production of green leaves in the BTAD is ferried to factories in neighbouring 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.
Basumatary, who is also an executive member of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Association, said work in all the tea estates have come to a standstill since the violence started on May 1.
He said during the violence in the BTAD area last year when demand for a separate Bodoland regained momentum, the small tea growers in Kokrajhar district alone had incurred a loss of about Rs 13 crore. “We had appealed to the Tea Board for compensation but there was no response,” he said.
He said the small tea growers had also appealed to the government regarding financial in this regard but the government too had not responded.
The developments in the BTAD 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 the BTAD area produce about 15 million kg of green leaves per year.