Tea industry stakeholders are unhappy with the Union budget as their demand for waiver on TDS on cash withdrawals of more than Rs 1 crore has not been addressed.
“Since last year, tea estates have been bearing this additional cost as they need to draw cash to pay wages and other dues of workers. The industry wants to move to cashless disbursement of wages but what stops it is the absence of adequate banking infrastructure in and near the estates,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary-general of the Tea Association of India.
“Each tea estate needs to draw crores in cash to make these payments. That is why we had sought a waiver of 2 per cent from the TDS. But no relief was announced for the sector on this issue in the budget,” Bhattacharjee added.
According to sources in the tea industry, if there are 1,200 workers in a garden, the management has to draw over Rs 10 crore in cash to pay wages and bonus.
“This means, an additional expenditure of Rs 20 lakh. We have to bear this additional amount in the absence of banking infrastructure. The industry is already in crisis as prices are stagnant. The Centre should realise the situation and consider our demand,” a tea planter based in Siliguri said.
A representative of the Terai Indian Planters’ Association pointed out that Raju Bista, the BJP MP of Darjeeling, had supported the demand. “The MP had written to the Union finance minister on Friday and elaborated on the need for the waiver. Yet, no announcement came from the Centre’s side,” said the representative.
Several planters also said the change in incentive schemes for chemical fertilisers, as proposed in the budget, may have an impact on the tea industry. “Diminishing incentives will adversely affect the industry,” a planter said.
Another section of planters felt that certain schemes announced for agricultural would also benefit the tea industry if extended to it. They mentioned the Pradhan Mantri Kishan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan, which helps in the installation of standalone solar pumps.
“Also tea exporters should benefit from the proposed rebate on digital refund of duties on fuel and electricity, which is at present non-refundable under the GST. In Bengal, there are four or five districts, and nearly a dozen districts in Assam, where tea is the predominant agricultural activity. The prospect of developing such districts as export hubs, as was announced by the finance minister in the budget, could provide a spurt in economic activities,” said a tea planter.