Ceiling on tea land for tourism hiked to 15%
The Bengal cabinet on Thursday expanded the policy that allows tea gardens to use land for tourism with riders, trebling the ceiling from 5 per cent to 15 per cent of total holdings.
The proposal is part of an attempt to give tea garden owners an alternative avenue for revenue generation at a time the spiralling cost of production and lower price realisation have thrown the tea industry in a tizzy.
“The cabinet has decided to allow tea gardens to use 15 per cent of their total land holdings for tea tourism purposes. The decision was taken to give a boost to the tea industry in the state. This will also generate more jobs in north Bengal,” senior minister Partha Chatterjee said after the cabinet meeting at Nabanna on Thursday afternoon.
The minister said tea planters would have to fulfil some conditions to secure permission from a committee that would be headed by the chief secretary.
“There will be a cap of 150 acres. This means no garden would be allowed to use more than 150 acres for tea tourism. Moreover, only the unused land can be used for this purpose and the plantation cannot be removed to make way of tourism projects. In addition, tea gardens would be allowed to erect construction on 40 per cent of the permissible land,' said the minister.
The state government, a source said, was well within its right to make the change as the tea garden land is leased out by the state. “Unless the government allows a change in the character of the land, the owners cannot set up tourism projects,” explained the source. So far, the state government used to allow tea gardens to set up tourism infrastructure only on five per cent of their total land holding. The Trinamul government had approved the policy in 2013.
But the initiative did not draw much investments as tea companies felt that the stipulated land size was too small to develop infrastructure and draw tourists.
Sources in Nabanna said that there was a demand from tea planters to allow them to set up tourism infrastructure in a larger area so that the projects could be made viable. The chief minister had been considering the demand for the past few months.
“At her recent administrative review meeting in Siliguri, the chief minister had assured the tea planters that the state would consider their demands. The announcement would give a fresh lease of life to the tea gardens, many of which were struggling to survive because of financial constraints,” a senior government official said.
The state commerce and industries department would be the nodal department for such projects which tea planters can take up in their estates, said sources.
The gardens will have to apply for permission to use land for tourism purpose to the department. The application would be forwarded to the committee headed by the chief secretary, which would take the final decision.
“The committee will also have representatives from some other state departments like land, environment and agriculture and also from the Tea Board,” said an official.