Darjeeling tea seeks financial assistance package

Darjeeling tea industry
Calcutta: The Union commerce ministry is pushing for a financial assistance package for the ailing Darjeeling tea industry, which was forced to remain closed for 104 days because of political turmoil in the hills. Based on a plea from planters, the ministry has sought help from North Block in the form of a one-time grant to clean the gardens and prune the bushes.
The Darjeeling tea industry lost 5 million kg, including the world famous "second flush" crop, with losses estimated at over Rs 700 crore.
Santosh Sarangi, joint secretary (plantations) with the commerce ministry - the administrative ministry of the Tea Board, the regulator, said the department of expenditure under the ministry of finance was working out the final contours of the rejuvenation package.
"This is going to be an extra budgetary allocation because such a situation was not foreseen. I do not want to put a number or the method of disbursement," Sarangi said on the sidelines of the 134th annual general meeting of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) on Tuesday.
The Darjeeling Tea Association had asked for a financial package of Rs 320 crore for maintenance. However, the Tea Board considered the amount as too high and worked out an assistance of Rs 100 crore, which has now been put forward to the finance ministry.
"Gardens in Darjeeling spend around Rs 1.8 lakh per hectare in a full year for maintenance activity. The package will work out to one-third of that since the gardens were closed for a brief per iod," Tea Board chairman Prabhat Bezbaruah said.
DTA secretary Kaushik Ghosh said the closure has wrecked the financials of the gardens.
"The industry paid around Rs 60 crore of bonus after gardens reopened in October despite having lost out on production of the major crop (second flush). Owners are now fully stretched to meet salary obligations, leave alone taking up maintenance activities," he said.
Meanwhile, the Modi government is looking to rework the role of several commodity boards, including the Tea Board.
"The role of the Tea Board will change from being a subsidy disbursement body to an entity which would closely work with the industry," Sarangi said.
ITA chairman Azam Monem said, "If the average consumption continues to remain at a rate of a cup a day, promotional efforts must be considered. Also, if exports are to grow, incentives and handholding by the government will be vital."

The Telegraph

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