Jalpaiguri, Sep 22: Discontent is brewing fast in tea belt of West Bengal that it may lead to closure sixteen more tea estates when efforts are on to reopen 13 closed tea gardens in the district, tea sources said.
Fall in price of tea, recent flood that inundated many gardens and breached vital communication and disagreement on bonus per centage between the manangment and unions were among other issues that currently plague the tea belt, the main cash crops of Jalpaiguri district.
At the moment 13 tea gardens in the Dooars have been lying closed out for many years that rendered jobless thousands of workers and any more closure of 163 other tea gardens might lead to a collapse of the economic activity of North Bengal, apprehended some members of the Indian Tea Planters Association (ITPA).
Regarding the current situation of those 16 tea gardens, the ITPA had furnished details to the ministry of labour for immediate intervension. According to sources close to the ITPA, tea leaves have been selling between Rs 62 and Rs 67 per Kg currently indicating a significant drop from its earlier price of Rs. 70 per Kg.
"We had witnessed a remarkable boom in the yield of tea leaves when the production shot up from 148 million Kg in 1990 to 200 million Kg in 2003. But, at present it has come down to around 160 million Kg a year. Cost of production growing steadily every year, the market price remaining almost stagnant, the industry is faced with a bleak prospect of incurring heavy loss," said the sources.
They said the low price factor was entirly to blame for the rundown condition of the tea gardens. The fund raised by the Tea Board for reviving the industry has not been made available to the tea gardens. "If the tea gardens are to be prevented from shutting down, we must announce new packages. There is no other option left," they added.
It was apprehended by the ITPA members that fresh troubles may be brewed by the uncertainty over clearance of bonus and other benefits due to the tea garden workers before the Puja.
However, a Kolkata High Court division bench consisting of Chief Justice S.S Nijjar and Justice T Sen has directed the state government to let it know what measures it had taken and what assistance has been provided by the Central Government regarding reviving the sick and closed tea gardens.
Both the Governments have been directed by the High Court to submit details regarding the resurrection packages before the end of this month, a tea expert said.