Union ministry of commerce & industry and tea board not on same page
The Union ministry of commerce and industry has, in a rare move, recently countermanded an order issued by the Tea Board of India, the apex government agency of the tea sector that functions under the same ministry.
On June 28 this year, the board had ordered a halt in tea production and suspended the factory registration of New Chumta tea estate, located near Sukna on the outskirts of Siliguri, for three months.
On July 20, the ministry cancelled the order, which tea stakeholders feel is a rare difference of opinion between the ministry and board.
The origin of this row goes back to April 18, when a team of the board had visited a warehouse in Siliguri where the tea produced by the garden concerned was stored.
The team collected the samples of the tea and sent those to the quality control laboratory. Once the tests were conducted, the board officials claimed the samples had monocrotophos residues.
Monocrotophos, an insecticide, is not permitted in tea plantations.
Hence, the tea board ordered the tea company to destroy the remaining tea in stock.
The tea was destroyed by mid-June.
The board went further to issue another order, saying that as the tea estate had violated the Tea Marketing Control order of 2003, the factory registration of the garden would remain suspended from June 28 to September 27.
Also, the garden’s entire plucking operation and supply of its teas for auction were also suspended during this period.
“It was also said that the reopening of the tea garden and factory would be allowed only once the board gets a report from experts that there is no trace of monocrotophos in the plantations,” said a source.
Thereafter, production came to a halt at the garden.
The garden management then filed an appeal with the Union ministry of commerce and industry against the order of the tea board.
The ministry conducted a hearing and on July 20, a joint secretary (plantation) of the ministry came up with an order saying that the tea board’s order would be set aside.
“It was simultaneously said that the tea board can examine the matter afresh and can carry out further testing of samples of teas produced in the garden for next three months. The testing, however, has to be carried out at the labs of the Tea Research Association,” the source added.
In recent times, it is a rare instance when such a difference of opinion has been witnessed between the ministry and the tea board, said senior tea planters.
“It is interesting to see that the ministry overruled its own agency’s order. In the tea sector, we have never witnessed such differences at the government level. It has also led to questions as to whether there is proper coordination between the ministry and the board,” said a planter.
The Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA) of which New Chumta is a member garden, hailed the ministry’s order and slammed the board.
“The tea board acted in excess… by suspending tea plucking at the tea estate. The order of the appellate authority (ministry) is a testimony to it,” said a representative of the association.