Siliguri, June 27: The Union commerce and industries ministry has mooted a plan to financially restructure closed tea gardens in a bid to get them reopened.
Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industries, told The Telegraph today that “a plan has been devised to enable the owners of closed gardens to get rid of a substantial portion of their liabilities”.
Under the scheme, some of the loans and advances made to these gardens would be waived, while the Centre and financial institutions would bear a part of the accumulated burden.
Of the 33 tea estates that have been put on the priority list, 14 are in Bengal, 17 in Kerala and two in Assam.
“Once the owners reopen their units, they can seek soft loans to finance their units. This assistance is apart from the Special Purpose Tea Fund, for which they are eligible to apply only after they clear their liabilities,” the minister said. The special purpose fund can be used for replantation and rejuvenation.
According to statistics available with the tea board, the total dues of 14 gardens in north Bengal (including the recently-opened Surendranagar) are Rs 129.49 crore. Of this, bank dues are Rs 114.03 crore, provident fund dues Rs 11.65 crore and tea board dues Rs 3.80 crore.
The minister said the next priority would be how to refurbish sick gardens, “but not right now”.
Ramesh travelled 60 km by road from Bagdogra Airport to Chalsa this afternoon, before visiting Samsing tea estate. “I will visit five closed estates during my three-day visit and I am optimistic of reopening at least two,” he said.
The five are Samsing, Bharnobari, Redbank, Chamurchi and Raipur. “We are confident of reopening Bharnobari and Redbank tomorrow, while at Chamurchi, talks will be held to form a cooperative to run the garden. Nothing can be said about Raipur now,” Ramesh said.
At Samsing, a Citu-dominated garden, more than 300 residents welcomed Ramesh with a lal salaam. “The owner met me three days ago and assured me that once the financial package is declared, he would open the garden within 24 hours,” the minister said over phone from Chalsa.
Ramesh asserted that if the Samsing owner did not respond within a month, the Centre would acquire the garden under Section 16 (D) of the Indian Tea Act.