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Headway in tea gardens takeover

Jorhat, July 13: Efforts are finally under way for a possible handover of the management of the state public sector undertaking Assam Tea Corporation Ltd to Andrew Yule, a central public sector undertaking.

A team from Andrew Yule will visit the tea gardens belonging to the ATCL in the next few days after the Assam government recently expressed interest in handing over the management of the corporation to the former central public sector undertaking.

State industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi confirmed the development and said, “We are just exploring whether a management contract can be worked out with them without compromising the interests of the workers. Things are still at a preliminary stage.”

Kallol Dutta, the chairman-cum-managing director of Andrew Yule, also confirmed the proposed visit of a team from the company to Assam in the next few days.

However, he expressed his inability to give details as he was abroad.

“I will not be able to give details offhand about the matter with ATCL, as I am in Brazil,” Dutta said over phone.

Sunil Munshi, the director (personnel and in-charge of tea) of Andrew Yule, said the central PSU had offered to take over at least three gardens of the ATCL and a team would visit Assam to explore the prospects.

“Things are at a preliminary stage,” he said.

Andrew Yule had offered to manage Cinnamara, Naginijan and Sycotta tea estates belonging to ATCL a few years ago but there was no response from the Assam government.

The offer was made again last year. The three gardens are in Jorhat district.

A top ATCL official said, “Andrew Yule is ready to take over the three estates but we have made our stand clear. If there has to be a takeover, Andrew Yule has to take over at least 12 gardens of ATCL in the Brahmaputra valley.”

He said the three tea estates of the corporation are gold mines and any company would want to run these gardens.

The official said the ATCL management has offered to excuse Andrew Yule from taking over management of the three gardens of ATCL in the Barak valley as it did not have any presence in that area.

“But we are categorical that the takeover will not be of one or two gardens, but at least 12 estates in the Brahmaputra valley,” the official said.

Andrew Yule has 15 tea gardens in the country, producing nearly 10 million kg of premium quality tea.

Of these, six tea gardens are in Assam and the rest in Darjeeling and Dooars.

The estates in Assam are Rajgarh, Murphulani, Tingkong, Basmatia, Khowang and Hoolungooree. All these are located in the Brahmaputra valley.

Industry sources said Andrew Yule taking over the ATCL gardens was the best that could happen for the gardens, which were once considered “gold mines”, but had fallen on bad times.

Mismanagement and lack of commitment on part of the government had pushed the 15 tea gardens to the brink of closure nearly a decade ago.

Work in all the 15 gardens owned by the ATCL had come to a standstill in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The government had offered to sell the gardens to private parties. However, there was little response primarily because of the corporation’s liabilities, which stood at Rs 144 crore in 2002.

The company was, however, revived in 2005 with the government pumping in funds.

The revenue of the company has been increasing since its revival, with various initiatives taken by the government.

ATCL sources said the turnover of the company was Rs 14 crore in 2005, and had increased to Rs 36 crore in 2009 and reached Rs 48 crore in 2012.

However, this will not be enough, going by the company’s liabilities.

ATCL chairman Rameswar Dhanowar had recently said that the company was heading towards doom because of mismanagement and Dispur’s apathetic attitude.

The plantation area of all the ATCL’s gardens is 7,000 hectares and there are over 15,000 workers.