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Scenario similar to that of 2003-04: Planters' body on north Bengal tea industry crisis

The situation turned acute last month as many gardens closed down over disagreements between management and tea workers over the rate of the annual bonus. Some tea companies — for example, the Raimatang tea estate in Alipurduar — explicitly said can't run gardens

Avijit Sinha Siliguri Published 09.11.23, 10:09 AM
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Representatives of the Tea Association of India, an association of tea planters with members in Bengal and Assam, have hinted that the present crisis in the north Bengal tea industry is redolent of events 20 years back.

Over the past couple of months, especially after a new interim hike in the daily tea wage rate — from Rs 232 to Rs 250 — several tea companies have articulated their financial constraints in running the gardens. They cited rising cost of production and lower prices at tea auctions.

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The situation turned acute last month as many gardens closed down over disagreements between management and tea workers over the rate of the annual bonus. Some tea companies — for example, the Raimatang tea estate in Alipurduar — explicitly said can't run gardens.

“In the last month, 13 to 14 tea gardens closed down in north Bengal. The closures left around 12,000 workers jobless. At this point, the scenario seems to be similar to that of 2003-04, when around 32 gardens were closed in the region,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, secretary general, Tea Association of India (Tai).

A senior tea planter based in Siliguri said that since 2021, the daily wage rate increased by around 42 per cent.

“Also, there has been an abrupt increase in other input costs like fertiliser, coal and chemicals. The CAGR (compound annual growth rate) rise in these cases is between 10 to 15 per cent. On the other hand, the CAGR of rise in tea prices at auctions has been merely 3 to 4 percent in the past 10 years. This critical gap seems to have jinxed the industry,” he added.

Those associated with TAI pointed out that at the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre, the average price from June to October peak season this year was around Rs 165 per kilo. Last year, the average price at the centre during the corresponding months was Rs 182.81, said Bhattacharjee.

The Bengal government, he said, should take steps to help the tea industry, which employs over three lakh people.

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