Siliguri, June 27: Small tea growers of north Bengal today threatened to launch an indefinite strike and stop supplying leaves to bought-leaf factories, alleging rate disparity.
The bought-leaf factory owners had yesterday alleged that small growers did not supply adequate leaves to them and instead sold them to garden owners at a higher price.
If the small tea growers make good their threat, it will affect over a hundred gardens where over 2 lakh workers are employed.
The factories, which collectively employ 1.5 lakh people, would also be affected. There are around 150 factories in north Bengal.
The volume of bought-leaf factory tea released in the market makes up nearly 30 per cent of the total tea volume sold annually.
Bijoygopal Chakraborty, president of Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Association, said: “The sole problem is the attempt by a section of bought-leaf factory owners to pay us less. On an average, the cost of production for a kg is around Rs 13 but most of the time, the BLFs bargain and pay less.”
He added: “We have sought the tea board’s intervention and if such a situation persists… we would have no other option but to announce an indefinite strike.”
Chakraborty said: “The allegation made by factory owners that we are not supplying leaves to them is baseless. Our members will surely sell their produce at the place where they get the best price. The factories always pay low, much to our disappointment. As tea leaves are perishable, the growers are forced to sell at lesser rates. We want an end to this practice, which is affecting the small tea sector and tea industry as a whole.”
“The factories never fix the price of the leaves and display them in front of the factories, which they should as per guidelines of the tea board,” he said.
The growers took up the issue with officials of the tea board today.
Factory owners’ allegations are different.
“Our factories… are entirely dependent on small growers,” said Prabir Seal, chairman of North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association (NBTPA).
“It is wrong to say that factories don’t pay standard rates. The rates vary with the quality of leaves,” Seal said.
Tea board officials, on being contacted, said they are looking into the issue.