Siliguri, Jan. 2: Tea trade came to a standstill here on the first day of the indefinite strike called by the warehouse owners' association.
The owners of 22 warehouses are demanding a hike in the charges of stocking tea.
'The whole of tea trade has come to a halt,' said Ravi Agarwal, chairman of Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC). 'About 3-4 lakh packages (30-35 kg each) of tea are held up at the warehouses. While 80,000-90,000 of those are packages which had been sold off in the auction but could not be lifted from the warehouses because of the strike, the rest have arrived from the gardens for the coming auctions,' he added.
T.B. Subba, secretary of STAC, regretted that the warehouse-owners went ahead with the strike despite the fact that STAC was taking the necessary steps and a meeting of the warehousing advisory body had been scheduled for January 4.
'After several failed deliberations, we had called a meeting on December 27, but because of poor attendance of the members, we could not hold the discussion. Therefore, we were forced to defer it till January 4,' he added.
If the strike continues, the weekly auction on Thursday will be also be hit.
Pawan Bansal, former president and member of Siliguri Tea Warehousing Association, said the strike will continue till the issue is resolved.
'We were forced to go on a strike after about 15 or so failed meetings and an equal number of letters and reminders to STAC which went unheeded,' he said. 'The rates of warehouse rent were supposed to have been revised and implemented by April 2002. But the revision never took place and we have been getting the abysmally low rates that were agreed upon six years ago,' he said.
At present, warehouses charge anything between Rs 4 - Rs 7 per kg of tea as entry fee for a period of 35 days. Afterwards, each kg of tea is charged Rs 1.50 for every additional week.
'It is getting impossible for us to run the warehouses. The rate revision, as a matter of rule, takes place every two years and 20 per cent hike on an average is agreed upon. Since the time of the last revision, there should have been three revisions by now and our demand is that we be given a hike of all the three revisions together,' Bansal said.
'It is unjustified. The hike can be worked out to 15-20 per cent, but they are asking us to double the rates, which is not possible,' said a STAC member.