Calcutta, July 1: The Union commerce ministry has identified eight gardens in Assam, Tripura and Dooars which can be revived out of the 25 sick and closed tea estates.
The decision was taken at a meeting additional commerce secretary L. V. Saptarishi held with banks, the Tea Board and promoters in Delhi on Monday. There was no decision on the other gardens, which are in poor financial shape and whose promoters failed to show up.
The ministry made it clear that the promoters’ reluctance to invest in gardens was one of the factors that made them sick. Low equity base, high debt burden and ageing bushes are some of the other reasons.
“The workers cannot be held responsible for the present status of the gardens. They are disciplined,” said Basudeb Banerjee, deputy chairman of the Tea Board. An estimated 20,000 people work in these tea estates.
The ministry asked banks and the Board to work out a financial package for the eight gardens within a month’s time so that they can be revived in five to seven years.
The Tea Board had hired A. F. Ferguson to conduct a study of these gardens and suggest ways of revival. The gardens were into two categories – A category (those which can be revived with financial assistance) and B (whose revival is doubtful, but something can be done with promoters’ support).
The consultant submitted its report to the commerce ministry on Monday. Ferguson had taken into account the earnings before depreciation, interest and tax as the basis of its study.
The ministry has asked the representatives of Uco, UBI, Punjab National Bank, Allahabad Bank to offer a financial waiver, in addition to the Madhukar Committee recommendations, which included a suggestion to reschedule repayments and cut interest rates for tea firms.
The Tea Board has also been asked to write off loans it gave to these gardens. The government has said it will provide a 5 per cent interest subsidy to tea companies against fresh loans sanctioned to them by banks. The financial package has to be put in place by all the parties within a month. Banerjee said that some of the promoters have taken unsecured loans which they have failed to pay off.