Storm in Darjeeling's teacup? ‘Distressed' tea garden owners seek bail-out package
Darjeeling, June 24: The world famous Darjeeling tea is witnessing a crisis, this summer. As the protest over separate Gorkhaland state continues, tea gardens spread across the tourist town are fighting their lonely battle for survival.
Along with the rest of the hills, tea gardens have also stopped all their operations because of the indefinite bandh called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha since June 15.
In spite of gardens in full bloom, workers could not pluck the crop which ultimately will lead to its destruction.
"This year, the first-flush tea production was better than last year. The second flush--which has a 40-to-45-day window from end-May to early July--started on a good note before the sudden unrest sparked the tea garden crisis.
Even if the strike is withdrawn tomorrow, it will not be possible for the gardens to organise more than two plucks before the season ends," reported The Telegraph about the ongoing crisis in Darjeeling tea gardens.
In order to tide them over the crisis, plantation owners have approached the Tea Board for a one-time grant. However, the board has refused to offer help to beleaguered Darjeeling planters.
Garden owners under the umbrella, the Darjeeling Tea Association, insist that if farmers can get loan waiver, they also deserve financial assistance.
Tea Board chairperson Prabhat Bezbarooah told The Telegraph there was no possibility of offering any financial aid to the garden owners while admitting that the situation was "tragic".
"It would not be possible to create any special corpus as such. There are no small tea growers in Darjeeling," Bezbarooah said.
"Darjeeling is the flag-bearer of Indian tea. It is a tragic situation no doubt. This is going to impact the finances of the garden owners. But what we can do from the Tea Board is provide some sort of assistance to promote the second flush when it comes to the market next year," Bezbarooah added.
The tea association also appealed to GJM chief Bimal Gurung to give them some relaxation so that work continues in the gardens. However, Gurung is unwilling to relent and said that all in Darjeeling should observe the bandh called by the party.
The tea sector in the hills is going to suffer massive financial loss as gardens have managed to produce only 200,000kg of second-flush teas this season against 1.8 million kg last year.
DTA secretary-general Kaushik Basu said the strike would push up tea production costs at the gardens by Rs 100 to Rs 150 per kg.
"This is an irreparable loss. Not even the best gardens will be spared (financially). Those with other sources of revenue will cross-subsidise and survive. But what happens to single-garden owners who have no other sources of income?" asked a large garden owner.