Recent tea estate closures in the Dooars in West Bengal have raised questions on sustainability of the tea industry and may lead to a shortfall of 50 million kg of tea leading to labour unrest, cautioned apex tea traders body, Western Indian Tea Dealers Association(WITDA), on Friday.
The association is expected to hold an AGM and deliberate on the issue on Friday, that will see dignitaries like GP Goenka, Chairman, Duncan Industries Ltd, Kolkata, Suresh Bansal- Director New tea Company Kolkata, Harendra Shah, Chairman, FAITTA & Director of Girnar Tea and other office bearers of the association like Ashok Relia, PO Desai and Paras Desai.
“As the cost of production went above the realisation price, around 7 tea gardens shut down and around 26000 labourers that are largely women lost their jobs. Between 2002 to 2007, 17 tea gardens shut down in Dooars and 1,200 deaths were reported in the area and there were reports of labourers being part of “famine-affected population” and having low wages. The tea industry being labour intensive, these developments have raised concern. Close to 25,000 labourerrs have got unemployed across these tea gardens run by a renowned tea brand. Further closure of tea gardens at West Bengal need to be governed as unemployment numbers can rise and the estimated loss of tea production will make tea costly. The industry is passing through a critical phase and the need of the hour is for political parties to come together and resolve the issue and also protect interest of tea producers. Violent politics stemming from upcoming polls in these states are also a matter of worry,” said Piyush Desai chairman of Waghbakri Group and President of the Western India Tea Dealers’ Association (WITDA) signalling ‘trying times’ for the tea industry.
Adding that labour costs constitutes almost 60% of the input costs, Desai said that labour wages have moved up from Rs 112.50 on April 2014 to Rs 122.50 in April 2015 and may rise to be Rs 132.50 from April 1, 2016, thereby putting an extra burden on leaf price of Rs 3 to Rs 3.50.
“While Gujarat would not be affected quality wise, as most of tea (around 70%) consumed here is procured from Assam, the demand for tea is growing by 5 to 7% while the production has not kept pace and is at a mere 4 %. We may lose 50 million kg production by 31st March 2017,” Desai added.
As per the data provided by WITDA, the total number of tea gardens in India currently stands at 14500 of which 8500 are located in north eastern states and 4500 are located in the southern states. They produce a total of 1250 million kg of tea and export close to 200 million kg, while 1050 million kg is India’s domestic consumption figure.
Out of 175 members in the WITDA have retailers, packeters, wholesalers and brokers from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, 140 belong to Gujarat including reputed tea brands like Wagh Bakri Tea, Girnar Tea, Vikram Tea, Mahesh Tea, Thakarshi Tea and Mumbai-based GS Brand among others.