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Hill tea green drive

Darjeeling, July 10: The Darjeeling Tea Association and the forest department have decided to start an afforestation programme in 64 hill tea gardens to increase green cover in the region.

This is the first time that a plantation drive in such a big scale would be carried out in the hills.

The programme, covering all three hill subdivisions, will start from July 14 and continue for a week. Each garden would plant at least 500 saplings.

R.P. Saini, the special additional principal chief, conservation of forests (Darjeeling hills), said the forest department would provide 100 saplings to each of the 64 gardens free of cost.

“The forest range officer nearest to a tea garden has been appointed the nodal officer. Apart from the 100 free saplings that the forest department would provide to each garden, the estates can buy more saplings from the forest department,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association.

Of the 86 tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills, 64 are members of the association.

The forest department will provide saplings of all local varieties.

“The basic objective of the drive is to encourage green cover in the state. Bengal is the only state in the country where the forest cover has increased over the past few years,” Saini said. “After two years, we will give an award to the best garden in each of the three hill subdivision of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong for best performance.”

Mukherjee said saplings would be planted in areas where there are no tea bushes. “Saplings will be planted in no-plantation areas and landslide-prone places of the gardens.”

Umesh Dwivedi, honorary wildlife warden (Darjeeling hills), said: “We are working towards involving local stakeholders to make the project successful.”