Kolkata, Sep 15 (UNI) To revive the ailing tea industry in West Bengal, the Centre, in collaboration with the state, will set up a Tea Export Zone(TEZ) in Darjeeling, a Tea Park in Siliguri and invoke a stringent act to take over closed tea estates in Jalpaiguri.
Informing this, Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh today said efforts were on to reopen six closed tea estates in Jalpaiguri on phasewise.
The decision came after a review meeting of the overall tea scenario with state Finance Ministrer Asim Dasgupta, state Commerce and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen and officials of the Tea Board and planters.
The state has some 303 tea estates in Jalpaiguri, of them 13 had been closed for many years. However, six closed gardens were to be reopened on phase wise as planters in today meeting have agreed to do so, said Dr Dasgupta and Mr Ramesh. For two closed tea estates of Kathalguri and Ramjhora, fresh efforts were on for reopening and for the remaining five tea gardens, the Centre would invoke the Tea act for takeover, the Union Minister said.
Mr Ramnesh said the Centre would now use Section 16-E Tea Act of 1953, which empowered the Government to take over closed tea estates and look for new owners to run the gardens on lease basis.
He said the Act since introduced has not been used so far.
However, now the Centre was ready to implementing it since some planters were unwilling to reopen their closed gardens, he added.
For this a seven-member committee under the chairmanship of Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture was set up to workout on the modalities for implementation of the Act in next fifteen days, Mr Ramesh said.
He said the Tea Park and the TEZ would boost production and export of the cash corp of the region.
On setting up the Tea Park in Siliguri as a joint venture between the Tea Board and the state government and Tea Export Zone in Darjeeling as a collaborative effort between the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation(WBIDC) and Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APEDA), the agencies would jointly chalk out draft plans for these, Mr Ramesh said.
Mr Ramesh said India produces about 970 million kgs of tea per year, of which Jalpaiguri district's share was some 200 million kgs.
Of the total 200 million kgs, about 30 million kgs were exported every year, Mr Ramesh said. He said the TEZ and Tea Park would not only help boosting tea prodcution but also find marketing and exportation of the made tea.
He said out of 130 closed tea estates across the country in last year, 97 were already reopened and efforts were on for restarting business of the remainder.
Dr Dasgupta said the government has decided to waive and relax some existing taxes in order to invite new onwers to take over the sick gardens in North Bengal. He said any new owner would not have to pay additonal power tarif for next years after taking over the sick garden, cess weiver on agricultural land, easy installation of pending liabilities wiht long duration and some other benefits beneficial to the tea industry.
Dr Dasgupta said the government would continue to pay relief of Rs 750 a month, medicines and rations to the workers of the closed tea estates.