The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On road: Great tea robbery
- Pilfered business costs the industry Rs 1 crore a year: Trade

Siliguri, Sept. 28: 'Special BOP grade pachaas rupaiye. BP, saathh.' (Rs 50 for Broken Orange Pekeo grade of CTC large granular tea and Rs 60 for Broken Pekeo)

CTC tea at half the market price! Incredible though it may sound, it is true because it is 'buma chai.' And if you thought 'buma' tea was anything different from the tea you bought from the retailer at Rs 100-140 a kilo, rest assured that the two brews are exactly the same in quality. The only difference is that 'buma chai' can be got with the help of a 'buma', a small cylindrical instrument with a sharp edge, used by a rickshaw-van puller to pilfer tea from packages.

'Abhi CTC le jaiye, orthodox ke liye hume bad mein mobile par phone kijiye,' (Take CTC now. Call me on my mobile for orthodox tea at a later date). Armed with the technical knowledge of the difference between BOP and BP tea, sporting a natty mobile phone and 'possessing' a floor area barely 20 square feet near P.C. Mittal Bus Terminus, Mohinder is an entrepreneur of sorts.

He and his business partners (read gang members) lift their 'buma chai supplies' from the rickshaw-van pullers everyday for anything between Rs 25-30 per kilo. It is then retailed (also wholesaled) mainly to roadside tea shops.

In practice for over a decade, 'buma tea trade' has assumed an organised character of late with several Mohinders operating from over a dozen different locations along Sevoke Road. For the van-pullers, who usually get Rs 3 per bag of tea and are able to lift about 50 bags each day, the business of selling stolen tea at Rs 30 per kg (they can siphon off at least 5 kgs a day), is undoubtedly lucrative.

In fact, the sight of loaded vans lined up on a roadside with a group of pullers working deftly with their 'bumas' without tampering the packaging, barely 100 metres from Bhaktinagar police station in broad daylight, is common.

'Pilfered tea business costs the industry over Rs 1 crore every year,' said Rajiv Lochan, the secretary of Siliguri Tea Traders' Association. 'Annually about 100 million kg of tea is used in trade within Siliguri. Half per cent of the total figure is pilfered during transit by vans.' he added.


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