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Bandh snuffing out tea business in hills

With the transport services remaining off the road in the bandh-hit Darjeeling,the tea industry —- the economic backbone of the hills —- is feeling the heat

Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata |
August 10, 2013 5:09:02 am

With the transport services remaining off the road in the bandh-hit Darjeeling,the tea industry —- the economic backbone of the hills —- is feeling the heat as the fresh produce collected from the gardens is piling up and can’t be despatched to the factories.

While the Gorkha Janmuti Morcha (GJM) kept the tea industry out of the bandh’s purview to earn political support from the grass root cadres of the party,major part of which work as tea garden labourers,its leadership has barred the industry from despatching the produce.

The work at tea gardens have not been stopped,but the produce has been piling up since August 3 – the day the indefinite bandh began. According to sources in Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA),nearly every garden has gathered a stock of at least 4,000 kg of plucked leaves. The industry is worried as stockpiling of production of premium first-flush tea,highly valued in the market,has been affected.

According to the official records of the DTA,there are 87 tea gardens which are identified as the production zone for the internationally acclaimed ‘Darjeeling Tea’

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The annual production of these gardens last year totalled at 9 million kg with the produce of some well known brands being sold at Rs 1,500 per kg to Rs 6,000 per kg. These gardens have 60,000 permanent tea labours while another 15,000 work on temporary basis.

A senior DTA official,requesting anonymity,said,“Even though the Morcha kept the tea gardens out of the bandh purview,it is useless for the industry. In last seven days,the tea gardens have stockpiled at least 8 lakh kg leaves. The stock could not be dispatched,which means the produce has started losing its quality and aroma for which Darjeeling Tea is famous.”

A Sharma,tea estate manager of a Darjeeling Tea brand,said,“In last seven days,we have stocked 4000 kg. We were able to process some of the produce as we have our factory inside the garden. In next few days,we will run out of fuel to run the factory and eventually we will have to stop the work in the gardens.”

The DTA has termed it a huge loss for the industry. “We will have to soon shut down all the gardens. We have tried to speak to the Morcha leaders and requested them to allow us to dispatch the produce,however,the Morcha is yet to consider our request,” said S Bagaria,chairman,DTA.

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