The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) trade union, Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU), has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking the Centre’s intervention in rejuvenating the tea industry. Their demands include the scrapping of the mandatory system, in which 50 per cent of the total tea produced has to be sold through auctions.
Gobinda Pradhan, chief coordinator of DTDPLU, said the current situation in Dooars “can’t be resolved” unless the Centre takes measures to rejuvenate “the industry, which is the largest employer” in the region, employing over three lakh workers. According to DTDPLU, the opposition trade unions agree that the mandatory auctioning of tea has been made to “aid middlemen” and plantation workers, and planters are the ultimate losers. The union has also demanded that the Centre fix a minimum selling price for tea, and extend its irrigation and agricultural schemes to tea gardens.
“The entire industry suffered without a minimum selling price, with tea being sold at distressed price… Fixing of minimum selling price is essential,” Pradhan said. Moreover, the tea industry comes within the purview of the Union Ministry for Commerce and Industry. Consequently, agricultural schemes such as the Sinhan Yojana Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme do not apply to the tea industry.
This year, the tea industry is expected to lose 30 to 35 per cent of its prime first flush and second flush production, which generally fetch better prices. Second flush accounts for 20 per cent of the total production of premium variety. According to the Tea Association of India, Terai and Western Dooars witnessed especially scanty rainfall in April and early May. Thus, leaf intake has been “affected badly” and pest attacks have “increased substantially”, leading to an escalation in irrigation costs.
The association added that despite a lower crop scenario, price realisation so far has been “grim”. The average price realisation at the Kolkata auction has fallen from Rs 155.22 per kg in 2015 to Rs 151.20 per kg this year. “Unless, there is a consistent increase in the tea prices proportionate to an increase in production cost, with steady demand throughout the year, the industry foresees a grim outlook in the ensuing months,” an official said.