| Workers pluck tea leaves in an estate in Jalpaiguri. Picture by Biplab Basak
Siliguri, Dec. 16: At last, a Tea Board chairman will visit north Bengal to discuss the crisis in the industry.
Basudeb Banerjee, who took over as the board chairman about two months ago, will meet representatives of the different sections of the tea sector at a meeting on December 19 to be chaired by local minister Asok Bhattacharya. Workers, planters, small growers, bought-leaf-factory owners, traders and members of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC) will be present at the meet.
The industry has been in its worst recession for the past five years, but this is a first-of-its kind gesture from the board.
'This time, we have someone from Bengal as the Tea Board chairman and we hope that he will be able to help the board play a greater role in resolving the crisis here,' Bhattacharya said.
Industry sources said Bhattacharya is likely to discuss the board's plans for infrastructure development (housing, roads, health and education) in the gardens.
The Tea Board is also expected to take up a few pilot projects in some gardens, which may be discussed in the meeting.
After years of crying itself hoarse over the government's 'lack of concern' about the brew crisis, the industry seems happy about the latest development.
'That the tea board chairman is coming here soon after assuming his office shows a sense of urgency on the part of the government, which we appreciate,' said P.K. Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association.
'With the lean period setting in, some gardens are on the verge of closing down,' said Mohini Das, the secretary of the Terai Indian Planters' Association. 'Steps need to be taken immediately.'
Asked if he would take up the recent scam of auctioning of 'non-existent' tea worth Rs 30 lakh at the Siliguri auction centre, STAC chairman Ravi Agarwal said: 'Since the Tea Board is the licensing authority of the auction system, we may take the chairman's suggestion. But this has not yet been included in our final agenda for the discussion.'