Siliguri, Dec. 24: Stakeholders in the tea industry here are looking at a rather dismal end to the year.
If hints from Tea Board officials are anything to go by, the Rs 4500-crore Special Purpose Tea Fund (STPF) will only be made available to planters across the country some time next year.
The fund proposal, designed to support a comprehensive rejuvenation and replantation programme in tea estates that will help to replace century-old low-yielding tea bushes, awaits cabinet approval now, the officials said. The idea had first been mooted during the 2004-2005 fiscal, they added.
“As the winter session of Parliament is already over, it seems that the tea loan will now be sanctioned when the cabinet meets again in the coming year,” G. Boriah, the director of tea development with Tea Board of India, told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta today.
According to sources in the industry, the delay is contrary to the claims made by Jairam Ramesh during his visit to the region earlier this year. The Union minister of state for commerce and industries had confirmed that the fund would start flowing in by November this year.
“We have no other choice but to wait for the disbursement,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “There is information that the proposal is being processed, but no concrete information is available to us.”
Mohini Das, secretary of Terai Indian Planters’ Association, expressed concern over the delay in the disbursement of funds.
“Apart from accepting applications from some of the planters, there had been no progress on this issue. Such delay in the release of funds will definitely affect activities in the tea estates as most garden managements have sketched their future plans taking into account the STPF,” Das said.
Though planters sounded frustrated by the delay, tea board officials continue to speak on the details of the fund. In course of the rejuvenation and re-plantation exercise, Boriah said, a targeted 2,12,000 hectares will be covered over 15 years.
“Once the process is over, the country’s net output is expected to go up by 240 million kg. This however, would not be a problem, as the annual domestic consumption is rising by 15 million kg and will reach the 225 million-kg mark at the end of 15 years,” Boriah clarified. “It has also been proposed that we take up a large-scale domestic promotion of tea consumption with special focus on life style and on the youth.”
About six months ago, the Tea Board had entrusted IIM, Calcutta, to conduct a survey on the trends of domestic consumption. Experts at the institute used the latest National Sample Survey data and forecast that the domestic consumption would grow by 11-15 million kg every year, resulting in a growth of 225 million kg at the end of the 15 years.