The Union commerce and industry ministry has convened a meeting in Delhi on August 14 to look into problems plaguing the tea industry.
Representatives of planters’ associations, exporters, brokers, major tea houses and small tea growers have been invited.
On Monday, two days before the talks in Delhi, Tea Board deputy chairman Arun Kumar Ray has called a meeting in Siliguri with representatives of the industry.
“In many gardens, the managements are finding it tough to keep their estates viable,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations.
In Bengal and Assam — the two major tea-producing states — the minimum tea wage is yet to be fixed. Union leaders have requested the Centre to intervene.
“The (tea) workers are shifting to other sectors where they earn three times more. We feel fixing the minimum wage can resolve the problem of absenteeism and check this migration,” said Alok Chakraborty, an Intuc leader in Siliguri.
After the Narendra Modi government returned to power, BJP MPs, including Darjeeling’s Raju Bista and Alipurduar’s John Barla, have raised the issue in Parliament.
While Bista has highlighted the need to reopen the closed gardens and sought central schemes for tea workers and firms, Barla has pointed to the problems in Bengal’s estates.
“At the meeting, the recent decision of the government to deduct TDS on cash withdrawals above Rs 1 crore could be raised. The industry still pays wages in cash due to lack of adequate banking infrastructure in the gardens and wants a waiver from the TDS,” said a planter in Siliguri.