The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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More aid for Darjeeling tea in offing

Calcutta, Oct. 9: The Tea Board of India is ready to provide greater financial assistance to Darjeeling gardens, reeling under the twin blows of high production costs and low prices, if “workable” proposals are presented.

Addressing the 14th annual general meeting of Darjeeling Planters’ Association (DPA) here today, Basudeb Banerjee, deputy chairman of Tea Board, said: “The board will provide higher subsidies provided the industry comes up with schemes. We will hand out the assistance to the industry for domestic marketing.”

About 35 to 40 per cent of premium Darjeeling tea picked in the first and second flush is exported. The remaining 60 per cent, produced from July to October, must find buyers at home. It is this variety that is sold below the production costs, dragging the average price down.

DPA chairman K. S. David said the high social costs of the industry — a reference to labour — is a massive burden that should be borne by the state. Unless this is reduced, the industry will end up crippled. Banerjee said the industry is worried about the high non-cash component in the wage bill, which include rations, housing and other facilities. “The government is working on a scheme to help the industry with infrastructure investments. It is taking the help of Indian Tea Association in this effort,” he added.

David felt it is high time the industry took a common stand on signing unreasonable and unwarranted agreements with unions to buy peace with them. “The issue of labour productivity must be addressed and strong stance taken on the issue,” he said.

The Darjeeling tea industry feels a realistic price should be set and the quality benchmarked. While 10 million kgs of Darjeeling tea is produced annually, about 40 million kgs reach the global market — an indication of the fact that there are a lot of spurious varieties around.

A major threat to the Darjeeling gardens is the tea produced in Nepal. Last year, the Himalayan nation produced 700 tonnes of orthodox tea.

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