In 10 years, no Assam forest minister has set foot on Manas national park, a World Heritage Site....

 A conservation road less travelled
ROOPAK GOSWAMI T he road to Manas National Park — one of the country's richest wildlife areas in Assam — does not seem to be on the itinerary for Assam's politicians.
No forest minister of the state has gone to Manas — a World Heritage Site in almost a decade — to get a first- hand account of the problems it faces.
There is a lurking danger that if the situation does not improve, it may well lose its hard fought heritage site tag, which it got back in 2011.
The national park that is noted for its spectacular scenery, with a variety of habitat that support a diverse fauna, falls under Kokrajhar parliamentary constituency, which goes to polls on April 24.
Well- known wildlife conservationist Bittu Sahgal says, " Manas is a tragedy foretold.
One of the world's most exquisite forests, it lies neglected and victim to both politics and social unrest. The forest minister of Assam should visit the park and speak to locals about protecting it." " The Bodo people themselves should recognise this heritage site as vital to their identity. It is a tragedy that they have allowed outside influences to destabilise the ecology of this forest, which actually belongs to their own children and should have been protected forever," Sahgal told The Telegraph . After the elections were announced, a rally was addressed by party president and BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary on April 18, along with party MP ( Rajya Sabha) Biswajit Daimary, to campaign for its candidate, Chandan Brahma, at Rupahi, 4km south of Manas, but there was no mention of Manas.
Six candidates — Chandan Brahma ( BPF), Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary ( Trinamul), Urkhao Gwra Brahma ( Independent), Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary ( Independent), Sabda Ram Rabha ( Independent), Hira Sarania ( Independent) are fighting for the Kokrajhar parliamentary seat ( ST).
" There has been no mention of Manas till now by political leaders in the rally today," Ajay Kherkatary, the president of the Manas Bhuyanpara Conservation and Ecotourism Society, told The Telegraph . " We have been telling the political leaders of the need to provide importance to Manas through action. For us, Manas is important and we have to save it," he said.
Rhino conservationist Bibhab Talukdar, who is the chair of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, says that Manas has been ignored by politicians. " I feel that Manas, being a World Heritage Site and also a tiger reserve, has been ignored by all politicians. Manas has been witnessing many challenges like Kaziranga, but for conservation and protection purposes, Kaziranga always gets more priority and publicity and support. After the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council, Manas seems to be hanging between the two power centres — the state and the council. Both lack the strong willingness to assist each other to promote Manas," he told The Telegraph . The national park takes its name from the Manas river, a trans- boundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India.
It is named after Manasa, the serpent god in Hindu mythology.
Forest officials concede the fact that Kaziranga has always got more from the state than Manas despite the latter being more rich in wildlife diversity.
The park has six national and international designations — World Heritage Site, national park, tiger reserve, biosphere reserve, elephant reserve and important bird area — which probably no other protected park in the country has. A total of 55 mammals, 36 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded in Manas which harbours by far the greatest number of Schedule I mammals of any protected area in the country.
Eighteen rhinos were translocated to Manas, of which poachers killed seven after it got back its heritage tag in 2011. " This is indeed a great setback towards restrengthening Manas to gain its lost glory back. BTC should take it as a challenge to manage Manas as best as possible and compete positively with Kaziranga," Talukdar said.
Though the BTC runs the park on a day- to- day basis, it is governed by the Wildlife ( Protection) Act, 1972 ( as amended in 2006). " Permission for doing research in Manas has to be taken from the chief wildlife warden," a wildlife researcher said.
" Manas should be on the political agenda of Assam if we are to save it," Rathin Barman, another wildlife conservationist who has been involved in the rhino rehabilitation in Manas, said.
According to a IUCN report on Terrestrial Biodiversity and the World Heritage Site List, the importance of Manas is much more than Kaziranga by the criteria of " irreplaceability". Manas is 417th in rank in terms of irreplaceability whereas Kaziranga is 2,236.
This apart, there is a potential source of conflict between Assam forest department and the BTC on the power.
Under the Memorandum of Settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests has been transferred to BTC but not wildlife.
The problems Manas faces are enormous — from militants, rising encroachment, poaching, delay in getting funds, vacant posts which have dealt a blow to it.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority says the incidents of rhino poaching in Manas have definitely been a cause for concern and evidence collected from the scene of the crime confirms the use of sophisticated weapons, bullets for which have been recovered.
Both sides have been accusing each other for not doing enough for conservation of Manas with the result that the park is losing out.
 Kokrajhar votes on April 24


Kenyan issues hits tea export at Inland Container Depot, Assam

ITC first joint venture for NE in packaged food.

ITC eyes NE biscuit market with joint venture

 Packaged food from a top brand of the ITC will now be made in Assam with the conglomerate joining hands with a local food major — Sunanda Ram Deka (SRD) Group — to set up a joint venture.
The SRD Group is known for its Repose brand of bakery. The joint venture called North East Nutrients Private Ltd has already been registered and the National Stock Exchange informed. This is ITC’s first joint venture in the Northeast and the registered office of the company will be at Calcutta.
The project cost is Rs 146 crore which will be financed by a consortium of banks. The plant would be set up on a 10-acre plot at Ramhari in Mangaldoi of Darrang district, with a production capacity of 100 tonnes daily. “The products manufactured would be biscuits and other items under the Sunfeast brand of the ITC,” a source said.
Confirming the development, a senior ITC official said the joint venture would manufacture packaged food to cater to the region. A source said the ITC would have 76 percent equity in the new venture with the rest owned by the SRD Group. The products would be out in a year’s time and a memorandum of understanding has been signed. Discussions between the ITC and the Assam group were ongoing for quite some time before the project fructified.
The biscuit market in the Northeast is growing at 15 to 20 per cent and the Indian Biscuits Manufacturers’ Association says the consumption in the east and the Northeast is around 28 per cent.
The Mangaldoi-based SRD Group have been in the food business for decades and manage a Horlicks factory and a Britannia cake factory in collaboration with Britannia Industries Ltd and an ORS factory in collaboration with Jagdale Industries, along with its own units.
“This is a significant development in the entrepreneurship sector of Assam and will encourage others to start similar venture. The ventureis starting in Mangaldoi and not at Guwahati which shows everything need not happen in the capital city,” R.S. Joshi, chairman of the Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region (Finer) said.
An official in the industries department said since it was a mega project (more than Rs 100 crore), Dispur will provide whatever help is required under the 2014 Industrial and Investment Policy of Assam if the company makes a request. The policy states a project with large fixed capital investment of a minimum of Rs 100 crore or generating regular employment for at least 1,000 people is given mega project status.
A high-powered committee to be notified by the government will consider additional incentives to be provided to such projects on a case-to-case basis. The committee shall consider the mega project status in a single integrated unit.
In July 2003, ITC made a foray into the biscuits market by launching the Sunfeast range of biscuits and it is also a key player in the pasta and instant noodles segments.


MK Shah Exports Limited first Indian tea company to set foot in Congo

Congo venture for tea major

 MK Shah Exports Ltd, which has 12 tea gardens in Assam and Bengal, has become the first Indian company to buy gardens in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.
The company, through its African subsidiary — Great Lakes Plantations — has bought M’bayo and Madaga tea estates in Congo recently.
“We are the first Indian company to enter the Congo. The acquisition includes 1,500 hectares of land, as well as two tea-manufacturing factories. The area includes a tea plantation, timber plantation and cinchona tree plantation, from the bark of which the anti-malarial drug quinine is extracted,” Jaydeep H. Shah, the director of Great Lakes Plantations — the African unit of MK Shah Exports Ltd — told The Telegraph.
Both the properties are in Bukavu, which is only 35km from neighbouring Rwanda. This is the company’s first acquisition in Africa.
MK Shah Exports Ltd, which started as a tea-trading firm, carried out backward integration by way of purchase of tea estates in Assam.
Shah said Congo offers much better soil and climatic conditions for the manufacture of high quality tea leaf than Uganda.
“Rwanda has many government controls/regulations, which plantations owners need to adhere to whereas in Congo these regulations are far less stringent,” he said.
A Belgian company originally planted the estates and before the purchase, a local company owned it.
“The purchase was taken care of by our internal accruals. We continue to remain a debt-free company,” he said.
He said with this acquisition, MK Shah Exports Ltd consolidates its position as India’s largest orthodox tea manufacturer.
“The foray into Africa helps us to diversify our base as well as our offerings to our clients. We can now provide top class CTC and orthodox teas to our clients abroad,” he said.
Of late, a couple of Indian companies have bought gardens in Africa.
“Africa has many inherent advantages such as an abundant supply of manpower, good terrain and climatic conditions, a relatively stable cropping pattern when compared to that of India — all of which makes it an attractive destination to invest in. However, one thing is certain for us as far as making any investment decision is concerned — we invest only in quality properties,” he said.
The company produces 13 million kg from its gardens in India and the crop from the two new gardens in Africa will be 3.5 million kg.
“Our estate is just across the Rwandan border and thus, shares most of the characteristics of Rwandan teas. Being situated at approximately 6,000 to 6,200 feet above sea level ensures that the teas manufactured there posses a unique flavour and aroma,” he said.
Production has started and a team of managers who were earlier stationed at plantations in Assam are looking after the property.
“There are multiple villages surrounding the periphery of our property from where our workers come,” he said.
On the mode of selling its teas from Africa, he said the plan is to sell privately to its customers in Europe and US.
“A part of these may be sold at Mombassa auctions,” he added.


After best ever sales, Guwahati Tea Auction Centre sets new price record

GTAC breaks price record

 The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre could not have asked for a better beginning to the New Year, with a broken orange pekoe (BOP) grade of CTC tea from Halmari tea garden fetching the highest-ever price of Rs 346 per kg.
The tea was sold this morning at sale number 3 and was bought by Kamakhya Tea Trading, a Guwahati-based tea buyer, retailer and wholesaler.
The GTAC is already in a euphoric mood this year, as it has broken all previous sale records when it sold 163.06 million kg of tea in 2013.
“The best thing about Halmari tea is that it maintains constant quality throughout the year, unlike other Assam gardens. This is not the time for first flush or second flush but its quality is such that it commands such good prices,” Pijush Kanti Roy, proprietor of Kamakhya Tea Trading, told The Telegraph.
The company bought 203.8kg of tea in lot number 4 of sale number 3 today.
In 2012, Halmari tea sold for Rs 365 per kg in Calcutta and the garden has crossed the Rs 300 per kg mark many tim-es. Halmari tea was the best mark in the GTAC in 2012-13.
Roy said the tea has a good combination of liquor and flavour. “The tea that we bought is for the Guwahati market. We have been buying Halmari tea for a number of years and get repeat orders,” he said.
Procurement of Halmari tea for the Guwahati market is an indication that people here are looking to buy good tea.
Lalit Jalan, another tea buyer, bought 15 bags of Halmari tea for the Guwahati market. “People want to buy good quality tea,” he said.
Retailers add a 20 per cent margin when they sell the teas at shops.
The 374-hectare garden is situated in Dibrugarh district and belongs to Calcutta-based Amarawati Tea Company Ltd, which also owns the Duliabam Tea Estate. Its teas have been fetching high prices for many years now and it ranks among the top gardens in the state.
The tea that was sold today was produced in mid-December last year.
“The Halmari tea factory produced 8.5 lakh kg of tea last year, which will increase to 10 lakh kg of tea in a few years of time. The increase will come from contribution by young teas planted in the last five to six years,” a source said.
A number of steps have been taken by the Tea Board of India to improve the quality of Indian tea. An important step was setting up two tea councils, one for South India and one for the north, in order to monitor the quality of tea meant for export and for imported teas meant for re-export.


Guwahati tea auction centre's new record

Golden brew brings cheer

There is euphoria in Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) with the country’s largest CTC auction centre recording the highest sales in its history.
Official sources said the GTAC sold 163.06 million kg of tea last year, 4.98 million kg more than in 2012.
“This is the highest sales in the history of this tea auction. The brokers and warehouse owners have handled the teas quite efficiently,” GTAC secretary Jayanta Kakati told The Telegraph. The centre can handle much more tea and there is a lot of scope for improvement, he added.
“We aim to sell 200 million kg tea in 2014 and steps are being taken to achieve the target,” Kakati said, adding that the bought leaf sector had assured them of more tea. In 2012, the GTAC had sold 158.08 million kg.
He said the centre would try to sell more tea from April through faster cataloguing so that the producers get their money quickly.
The average price of tea sold at the GTAC from January to December 2013 was Rs 135.37 while in 2012 it was Rs 133.76. Of the 163.06 million kg tea sold, 126.63 million kg was through auction and 36.42 million kg through the private route. The value of the 163.06 million kg sold was Rs 2,207 crore.
Sources said industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi had put in a lot of effort to improve the centre after he took charge as chairman last September. He has been insisting that bought leaf factories sell more tea through GTAC. He even gave a “veiled” warning that bought leaf factories would cease to receive benefits from the state government if 50 per cent of their teas were not sold through the GTAC.
The GTAC had held a road show in Calcutta last year to help increase its buyer base and has also requested tea producers in the state to send more quality tea. “The road show was well received and the companies will reciprocate soon,” a tea industry official said.
The GTAC was opened on September 25, 1970 to help the tea industry play a pivotal role in the state’s economy and enable local entrepreneurs to get a slice of the tea trade.
“The centre has had difficult times but all stakeholders are doing their best to do better,” a tea broker said.
The point of concern for the centre is that it still gets only 27.5 per cent of the tea produced in Assam, which produces 55 per cent of the country’s tea produce, which now stands at 1,132 million kg.
“Pressure is being put on the companies who are not routing teas through the GTAC to sell their tea from here,” a tea official said.
The participation of top tea companies at the special charity tea auction last year was a signal that companies are willing to join hands with the GTAC. The collection of Rs 1.83 crore in a single day was also a record.
Kakati said several steps have been initiated to strengthen the confidence of buyers in GTAC.


Assam's legendary singer Bhupen Hazarika's new connection-- a textile one

First ramie variety developed in Assam named after Bhupen Hazarika

 Assam’s legendary singer late Bhupen Hazarika now has a textile connection — with Assam’s first ramie variety of fibre being named after him.
“Late Bhupen Hazarika’s message of peace, prosperity and harmony will be spread through this oldest, traditionally grown, natural fibre crop variety,” A.K. Sharma, scientist-in-charge, Ramie Research Station, Sorbhog, told The Telegraph today.
This is the first variety developed by Ramie Research Station, which was established at Barpeta district more than five-and-a-half decades ago. The research station is a sub-station of the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, Barrackpore, West Bengal.
On why it took so long to develop the first variety, sources said not much interest was shown to develop ramie for years, especially as the institute lacked manpower and also had security problems.
Ramie (Boehmeria nivea), one of the oldest vegetable fibres, has been used for thousands of years. Its existence has been observed in mummy cloths in Egypt. The fibre is native to Southeast Asian countries, including China and the Philippines.
The variety, R-1411 (Hazarika), has been identified and submitted for release to the central variety release committee of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research after being tested at three testing locations — Nagaon, Sorbhog in Barpeta district and Cooch Behar in West Bengal.
The variety has attracted the attention of farmers for good performance in adaptive trials.
“R-1411 had better quality parameters in fibre colour and low gum content which will fetch additional benefits. Its yield is 6.77 per cent higher than others, depending on agronomic management and climatic conditions during crop growth. It has the potentiality to lift the national yield to 16 quintal/hectare/year (under rain-fed conditions) and 24 quintal/hectare/year (under irrigated conditions) and ensure additional productivity per hectare,” Sharma said. It has good biotic resistance for diseases and pests.
Ramie is considered a valuable textile fibre for its high tensile strength, lustre and microbial resistance. The fibre is also much in demand globally because of its high tensile strength and eco-friendly image.
The production of ramie in the country is 12 metric tonnes, of which 10MT is produced in the Northeast. Of the 100 hectares under ramie cultivation in the country, 90 hectares are in the Northeast. The production of ramie in China was 124,000MT in 2011.
Jute commissioner Subrata Gupta said there are challenges in ramie production but efforts are under way to overcome it.
In northeastern states, especially in Assam, ramie is grown because of its congenital climatic condition and is popularly known as rhea. Conventionally, dresses and fishing nets used to be woven in Assam from ramie fibre.
According to the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, the fibre crop should be made popular.
“A lot of steps are being taken for mechanisation of ramie cultivation. This has led to 75 per cent reduction in the cost of cultivation,” Sharma said.