The Telegraph
Saturday , July 26 , 2014
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Hope for closed tea gardens

Tea Board chairman Siddharth (right) with ITA chairman Arun Singh (centre) and adviser to the Tea Board G. Boria in Calcutta on Friday. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury

Calcutta, July 25: The Tea Board is expected to approach the Bengal government to revive closed gardens.

Board officials will meet the state government within a fortnight.

Plans are also in the offing to tweak clauses in the Tea Act, 1953, to streamline takeovers and the transfer of leases.

The flurry of activity comes in the wake of an uproar over deaths being reported from estates in the state.

Bengal has five closed gardens in the Dooars. Nationally, there are three more, of which two are in Kerala and one in Assam.

The deaths of estate workers at the Raipur and Bandapani tea gardens prompted the district administration to conduct an investigation. However, the probe revealed that the deaths were not triggered by starvation.

“There are two Acts that govern tea gardens. These are the Plantation Labour Act and the Tea Act of 1953. Under the first, the responsibility lies with the state government. We are happy to hear that the state government has announced certain packages for these gardens. When it comes to the Government of India, we can explore the possibility of giving the management of these gardens to an entrepreneur. These provisions are there but the Act is silent on how to do it,” said Tea Board chairman Siddharth.

An area of concern will be to find entrepreneurs who would be keen to invest as they would not make profits in the near term. Legal hurdles in taking over an estate along with the liabilities pose a further hindrance.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has written to commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman, seeking urgent intervention in the revival of closed gardens. Dheklapara, Bandapani, Red Bank, Raipur and Surendranagar tea estates were mentioned in the letter.

Sustainability code

The Tea Board today said the Trustea Code launched last year would be able to certify at least 50 million kg of tea as sustainably grown by year-end.

Siddharth said the Tea Board had made it mandatory the adoption of the plant protection code (PPC) formulated by it.

“All the plantations should follow the PPC as well as the integrated pest management programme,” he said.