Siliguri, Sept. 29: What the tea pilferers take advantage of is a scientific property of tea.
Brew being hygroscopic in nature, it absorbs atmospheric water and contains 0.045 to 0.2 per cent moisture. 'Since tea gains weight due to absorption of moisture, the buyer does not feel any perceptible difference in weight even if a specific amount of tea has been siphoned off,' said Ravi Agarwal, chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC) and member of Siliguri Tea Traders' Association (STTA).
Nevertheless, the industry has been crying hoarse over it since the past one decade without a change in the status quo. Those who have dared to protest were manhandled and threatened.
In May 1999, a manager of a transport company was beaten up when he intercepted the van-pullers. This is not an isolated case. Countless general complaints and first information reports have been filed with the police.
A yellow coloured flat file with 'Tea Theft' scribbled in black on the cover is one of the most valued objects in the office of the STTA.
About 10 years old, it contains records of all communications the association has made with the authorities to put a stop to rampant pilferage of tea by rickshaw-van pullers on Sevoke Road. That the sundry letters, memorandums and copies of FIRs, all duly clipped, have made little difference is obvious.
The most recent addition to the file is a letter to the STAC on September 17. 'We have asked the auction committee to take up the matter once again,' said S.K. Bhattacharya, president of STTA. 'No step has yet been taken by the administration despite our repeated appeals and complaints. But our efforts are still on. The (tea theft racket) has to stop somewhere.'