इंडियन आवाज़     23 Feb 2024 12:01:29      انڈین آواز

Garden to lips, the tiresome journey of Tea

On International Tea day, we present story that revolves around the small Tea Growers in West Bengal and North Eastern states and how they are asserting their rights for fairer terms of trade.

Pritpal Kaur

Most of us wake up in the morning to a cup of hot fragrant tea. This aromatic beverage not only warms our body but also nourishes the soul.

But how many of us had ever given a thought as to how does the story of those two leaves and a bud evolve, before they make their way to us from the tea estates in the form of one cup of hot brew that brings us to the realities of our daily lives while fetching us back form the dreamland.

Tea is a health drink. According to the UN food agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) there is an increasing weight of scientific evidence of black and green tea being attributer to a healthy lifestyle for people all over the world.

In India Tea is mainly grown in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Tea workers in plantations are generally classified into men, women and adolescents. There are contract workers also, permanent and casual.

The casual workers, both resident and non-resident constitute more than 40 per cent of the daily workers in the tea plantations.

While the permanent resident workers and their bonafide dependants are entitled to
The welfare benefits under PLA, the casual workers are entitled only to engagement at the prevailing money wage and not to any of the provisions. This significantly reduces the wage costs to the tea estates and they became a floating labour reserve that can be engaged and laid off at will.

During the 2012-13 budget, Tea Board of India submitted some recommendations to the Department of Commerce. Among the prominent was the observation that it has become financially not viable for the tea industry to continue to bear the social cost burden in their garden estates.

Tea Board recommended the creation of a separate trust or an agency to look after housing facilities, sanitation facility, Safe drinking water under, health and Educational.(result was a modified Plantation Labour Act 19.. which turned out to be more or less as exploitative as the PLA 19..)

Small Tea growers are another section that adds immense value to the tea industry. These are the tea farmers that grow tea on an area of less than five hectares and employ less than fifteen labours. These small growers are basically family affairs.

The plantation labour act doesn’t apply to them. They have to fight their own big and small battles against all odds.

Obviously their situation is no better than plantation workers. They don’t get remunerative price for their produce i.e. green leaves. The agents who act as intermediary between the small tea growers and bought Leaf Factories don’t give fair price to the farmers. However, some intervention is being made in the value chain by Centre for Education and Communication.

This becomes more of a matter of concern since small tea growers are in a large number in theses tea growing areas. For the last few years, small tea growers in Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh are adopting technically sound methods of tea cultivation.

An increasing number of growers are forming societies and taking a collectivised approach in negotiating better prices for their produce. These societies are forming bank linkages for better management of their incomes and savings.

To lessen their pain and making life easier for small tea growers project ‘sustainable livelihood for small tea growers ‘ was started by CEC (centre for education and communication).

The overall objective of the project is to reduce poverty among small tea growers (STG) through innovative means of improved agricultural practices and establishing fairer terms of trade in tea. This is done by following a strategy of mobilizing small tea growers and helping them form collective organizations to manage the tea based livelihoods and building capacity of small growers collectives to be effective and efficient platforms for improving production systems, getting better returns, and increasing access of small tea growers to public schemes.

Primary Producer Society or as they are called PPSs can be described as groups of small farmers registered under the Societies Registration Act (1860). STG PPSs function as business enterprises at the grass roots level. They address and organise issues around the cultivation of tea and sales of green leaves. Their objective is to gain better prices for green leaves by enhancing the quality of production and engaging in fair terms of trade with bought leaf factories (BLFs). Organising into PPSs helps in enhancing the bargaining power of the STGs vis a vis other actors in the tea supply chain. It helps the STGs get access to the government schemes and programmes.

A PPS is based on the principles of a cooperative but has more functional autonomy than a cooperative.

There are a number of facilities Offered to PPSs by the Tea Board of India. Among a few are subsidiaries given to buy transport vehicle for carrying green leaves from fields to factory. This is given at the rate of 50 per cent of the actual cost.

Tea Board of India has further relaxed the norms for setting up of STG societies. Subsidy for transport vehicle is allowed at the rate of one vehicle for every 1,000 kilograms of green leaf harvested per day. Weighing scale is provided at the rate of two scales per leaf shed. The leaf-carrying bags/plastic crates are allowed as per the requirement of the society/group. Pruning machine is provided at the rate of one machine for every 10 hectares of area owned by the members of the STG society.

The items that are eligible for subsidy include sprinkler equipments, drip irrigation system, pipelines, motors, pump sets, and creation of irrigation source such as check dams and tube wells.

However not many growers have benefited from this as this is a facility for individual STGs and not groups. Moreover a surveyor has to conduct a survey as mentioned above and certify and this is a very tedious task. Since most of STGs do not have valid land documents or NOCs this is not easy to obtain.

Various developmental schemes too are in operation by Tea board of India. Plantation Development Scheme, Tea Quality Up gradation and Product Diversification Subsidy Scheme, Price Stabilization Fund Scheme are a few prominent ones.

In the year 2006, Tea Board of India launched a pruning subsidy scheme for STGs in Nilgiris. Under this scheme, an STG is paid Rs. 1,300/- per acre for pruning his tea fields. In addition, an individual STG receives technical guidance from the field staff appointed under quality up gradation programme.

The Tea Board of India also extends its help by way of granting educational stipends to the wards/dependants of STGs. Under this scheme the children (maximum 2) of STGs who secure at least 75 per cent of marks in class XII are eligible for stipend if the total family income of the concerned STG does not exceed Rs. 10,000/- per month.

Price-Sharing Formula for STGs came into effect from 01.04.04 through a notification by Tea Board. Under this formula, the manufacturer has to share the sale proceeds with the STGs in the ratio of 40:60, based on the sale price of the manufacturer vis-à-vis average auction price for the corresponding month.

The price of tea of any manufacturer used in the manufacture of packed tea either by the manufacturer himself or by way of direct transfer to other packed tea manufacturing unit of his sister concern shall not be less than the price of tea in loose form of the said manufacturer, sold by auction and/or non-auction route. Similarly, the price of tea of any manufacturer consigned to any agent shall not be less than the price of tea in loose form of the said manufacturer sold by auction and/or non-auction route.

The price of the green leaf payable for the month by every tea manufacturer of any state and also the combined average monthly auction price for CTC teas for the said state should be prominently displayed on the notice board of the tea factory for the information of all tea leaf suppliers. Also, one copy of the same should be sent to the local office of the Tea Board before the tenth of the following month.

Every registered manufacturer shall obtain the average monthly auction price for the state in respect of the reporting month by the seventh of the following month from any of the offices of the Tea Board situated at Kolkata, Guwahati, Siliguri, Coonoor, and Cochin.

The finalization of tea leaf price payable to suppliers for the tea leaf purchased during any month by the manufacturer of any state of North India should be based on the price realized during the following month by the said manufacturer through auction and/or non-auction route

The implementation of price-sharing formula differs in regional context from North India to South India. For North India, the monthly average price for CTC teas (from auction and non-auction route) is calculated by controller of licensing, Tea Board of India, Kolkata. Similarly, for South India, the monthly average price for CTC teas (from auction and non-auction routes) is calculated by joint controller of licensing, Tea Board of India, Cochin.

It is done in the first week of every month for the previous month, and a copy of the same is circulated to Tea Board’s regional offices located in different parts of South India including Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

And finally those two leaves and a bud reach our homes to be brewed into a fine cup of tea that we enjoy with our morning newspaper or may be just sitting idle looking out of the window or sitting in our front verandah.

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