India's third biggest tea packeteer eyes Assam tea gardens

Wagh Bakri  eyes Assam gardens

Piyush Desai, chairman of Wagh Bakri Tea Group. File picture
The third biggest packet tea company in the country, Wagh Bakri, which has so far procured and packaged tea for sale the world over, is now eyeing the source — it wants to buy gardens in Assam.
“We are working on the proposal and will place it before the board for its approval. In the first phase, we may go for three to five gardens having a production of 1 to 1.5 million kg. Proposals are also welcome from owners of medium/small gardens. This will be a win-win situation for both as there will be equity partnership between the producers and our company Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited,” Piyush Desai, chairman of Wagh Bakri Tea Group, told The Telegraph.
“Wagh Bakri is a brand of very good quality tea and as such should have control over kitchens,” he added.
Explaining the decision, Desai said: “Despite our repeated requests, producers have not increased production of organic tea or organic green tea for which consumer market is increasing by more than 25 per cent every year.”
The Rs 700-crore Gujarat-based company, which sources 30 million kg of Assam tea, controls a 15 per cent share of the country’s 360 million kg packet tea market. The top two packet tea companies in the country are Hindustan Unilever Limited and Tata Tea. Desai, who will attend the special tea charity auction to be held here on December 3, supported industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi’s insistence on Assam tea producers giving tea for sale at Guwahati Tea Auction Centre as their first preference.
He suggested full subsidy for tea growers putting up more than 50 per cent of their produce at the GTAC. If the offering is less than 50 per cent, the subsidy should be reduced accordingly. Desai has also been supporting duty-free import of tea. “Of course, any government should take care of the industry by providing protection but it should also maintain a fair pressure by gradually allowing duty free import of tea. This will compel producers to maintain good standards of tea, resulting in good quality tea available to the packet companies who are competing with coffee,” he said.
“Indian tea production is unlikely to show any significant increase but our domestic consumption is growing by three to five per cent per annum. This means that in the next five years we will be a net importer of teas even if we do not export any tea, which is unlikely and neither should that happen,” he added.
On the increased role of small tea growers, who are now producing 225 million kg annually, which is 25 per cent of tea production, Desai said if this sector grows systematically it will be a blessing to the tea industry as its growth rate is faster than that of big tea growers. “But if they grow in a haphazard manner and produce weak quality tea, it will be a big threat to the tea industry,” he said.

• Packet tea market growing 10% annually, loose tea market losing 10%
• Packet tea market comprises 14 major players and 100 regional brands, selling 1 million kg tea annually
• Wagh Bakri markets 35 million kg, of which 30 million kg is Assam tea, 4 million kg from Dooars and 1million kg from South India
• Of the Assam tea segment, 12 million kg is procured from gardens and 18 million kg through auction, of which 8 million kg is from the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre

Municipal authority from Guwahati becomes the first in East India to get ISO 9001 tag

Efficiency tag for GMDA

- Civic body gets ISO 9001 certificate
The Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), which has often drawn criticism from the city’s residents, has quietly walked away with the coveted ISO 9001 certificate — the gold standard in administrative efficiency.
In fact, GMDA has become the first municipal authority  in eastern India to get ISO 9001:2008 standard certification. The certificate was issued on October 31.
“It is basically an effort to streamline the operating procedures of the office and tone up officials of the authority to ensure efficient and prompt citizen-centric services. It took almost one-and-a-half years to upgrade office infrastructure and bridge the various gaps and carry out a quality management drive to enable the officials of the authority to handle their various tasks in a better and smarter way,” GMDA’s chief executive officer M. Angamuthu told The Telegraph.
Angamuthu, an IAS officer, is also credited with getting the deputy commissioner’s offices of Karbi Anglong and Nagaon ISO 9001 certified.
“To the best of my knowledge, GMDA is the sole municipal authority in eastern India to get ISO certification,” Rupam Baruah general manager (east) of Bureau Veritas, which awards ISO certificates, told The Telegraph.
The eastern regional office of Bureau Veritas looks after 13 states, including those in the Northeast.
The certificate is valid till October 31, 2016, and was provided for enforcement and execution of master plan, formulation and execution of schemes for planned development of Guwahati metropolitan area as well as regulation and control of development through regulatory measures.
Baruah said the process was started almost six months ago. The GMDA engaged the National Productivity Council as the process consultant to implement the requirements of ISO 9001:2008. A number of workshops were conducted for the implementation team.
“As a certifying body, we verify the adequacy of documented quality management systems and procedures in reference to the requirements of ISO 9001. Then we conduct a certification audit — which generally focuses on implementing status with reference to the documented system. Then, legal requirements are verified in what we call a compliance audit. After every stage, we issue audit reports and the client has to provide a corrective action report,” Baruah said.
The certificate is valid for a period of three years and every year there will be a surveillance audit to verify the sustenance of management systems and serious non-compliance to requirements may lead to suspension of the certificate.
A GMDA official said the authority now has departmental operating procedures in place to deliver quality services to citizens and meet the mandatory requirements stipulated by the Assam Right to Public Services Act.
“A computerised monitoring unit has been set up to monitor the process and disposal of various public proposals, seeking of NOCs for buildings and land transfers. Very soon, a fully computerised system for scrutiny and processing of various building construction proposals will also be put in place,” the official said.
Thanks to the improvements, the GMDA office, which looked neglected before, has undergone a transformation with state-of-the-art work stations, conference hall, visitors lounge, Wi-Fi facility and a fully digitised records room.


Manas national park now has muga silk connection!

Manas haven for muga

 The muga silkworms that give Assam its famous golden thread now have a sanctuary on the fringes of Manas National Park.
A senior official of Central Silk Board said the move aimed at conserving the germplasm of muga silkworm as its habitats were fast eroding because of rapid deforestation for agriculture and human habitation.
The initiative is a collaboration of Central Silk Board and the department of sericulture, Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Altogether 100 acres of land have been demarcated in the Rangijora area of Kuklung forest range in Chirang district in Manas National Park.
The sanctuary was inaugurated on June 5 in the presence of Deven Boro, executive member, department of sericulture, BTC, Prafulla Kumar Hazowary, secretary, BTC, Kokrajhar, and Sarat Deori, joint secretary, Central Silk Board, ministry of textiles, among others.
“Being a single species silkworm, rearing of the stock in the same place for more than three to four generations shows an inherent tendency of inbreeding depression as indicated by the loss of its tolerance capacity to environmental variations. The germplasm is also fast depleting due to unabated deforestation and human intervention. To check further erosion of the valuable genetic resource of muga silkworm, there is an urgent need for conservation of muga in its wild habitat and to establish a sanctuary to conserve this valuable resource in its natural habitat,” Deori toldThe Telegraph here.
Another problem is that muga silkworm had always been grown outdoors and is prone to die in large numbers because of factors like global warming, climate fluctuations and pollution besides predators and diseases.
Muga, the golden yellow silk, is obtained from semi-domesticated silkworm, Antheraea assamensis. Earlier, several attempts were made by the line departments to conserve muga silkworms in the wild by demarcating a specific reserve forest as wildlife sanctuary. The attempts, however, failed because of administrative reasons.
The sanctuary has been set up in the BTC area, as it is an important seed pocket of muga and contributes about 30 per cent to the state’s silk output. Weaving is an integral part of Bodo culture and many families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are spun into silk. Bodo girls learn to weave from a young age and no Bodo courtyard is complete without a loom.
“The present local (semi-domestic) stock is less tolerant to environmental factors causing diseases. For revitalisation of the existing stock, evolution of a variety or developing a vigorous breed is required for which exploitation of the genetic resource in the wild is required,” a scientist at Central Silk Board said.
Of the total Assam silk production of 2,019 metric tonnes in 2011-12, the production of muga was 115 metric tonnes. Muga provides self-employment to more than 44,000 families, including ancillary units, in the state. “It is an excellent initiative for conservation of muga germplasm and the area is suitable,” the divisional forest officer of Chirang, Suvasish Das, said.


MoEF asks Assam on Army presence in Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary

Delhi frowns on army in Sonai

The Union ministry of environment and forests has asked the Assam forest department to send a detailed report on the “occupation” of the army in Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district.
Sources said this was recommended by the forest advisory committee of the ministry in a meeting in September to discuss an army proposal for diversion of 481.566 hectares of forestland for construction of ammunition depot in Charduar reserve forest under Sonitpur west division. The area is close to Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary, separated by a road of about 12 to 15 feet only. The army has already “occupied” 200 acres of land in the Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary, the committee said.
“A detailed report from chief wildlife warden about occupation of the army, including the exact area of occupation and date since when land is occupied and justification for such occupation by the user agency, is required,” the committee said in its report.
The ministry has also sought comments from the chief wildlife warden on the project site and the National Board for Wildlife status as the site is close to a protected area.
An environment clearance will be required as the built-up area proposed for the project is more than 20,000 square metres and 72 trees will be felled.
A stretch of the proposed area for diversion has been encroached upon by indigenous communities and the area under encroachment is currently used for cultivation and settlement. It also has a few important timber species and Asian elephants sometimes stray in the area.
The regional office of the ministry of environment and forests had stated in its site inspection report that the proposal for diversion of 481.566 hectares for the same purpose was accorded “in-principle approval” by the ministry in 2005 in the adjacent area. It stated neither compliance to the conditions stipulated nor the reasons for abandoning the earlier site have been mentioned.
The report has asked the forest department to submit a revised compensatory afforestation plan after identification of a new site, which is free from encumbrances along with site suitability certificate from competent authority.
The department had recommended the proposal in view of the importance of national security and strategic location of the identified site, which is near the road/foothills of the Arunachal Pradesh border and has the barest minimum forestland with less vegetation. The 220 square km Sonai Rupai sanctuary had lost 85 square km to encroachment before 2007. The sanctuary is 190km from Guwahati.
The army was in the docks in 2011 when it was asked by the ministry of environment and forests not to practise in the firing range until it obtained the necessary clearance.The Telegraph had published three reports on the issue.
The ministry took up the matter after it had received representations from various quarters, including the members of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife, on the construction and use of the firing range inside the sanctuary.

Arunachal's Dibang valley gets butterfly to its name

Butterfly named Dibang, 26 years later

- London-based naturalist discovered species in 1987, Internet to the rescue
A Callerebia dibangensis butterfly
Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh has got a butterfly species —Callerebia dibangensis — to its name, 26 years after it was found there.
Purnendu Roy, a London-based naturalist, had discovered the species in 1987 in the Upper Dibang Valley on the footpath from Anini to Mipi but did not have the means to identify it. “When I first found the species, there was no Internet and it was hard to identify the species. There were not many field guides to help us either. Very few species were well illustrated and nearly all my identification work done through descriptions. The fact that I could not identify all the species I discovered was not very surprising,” Roy told The Telegraph.
“The Internet and digital photography has created a resurgence in interest in Indian butterfly species and people can freely exchange information, share photographs and most importantly network with their peers. It was through the web that I became aware of the work of Titli Trust in the Northeast. Sanjay Sondhi, a trustee of the organisation, helped me in revisiting Arunachal Pradesh in 2012. This led me to go back to my old specimens and discover the butterfly,” he said.
Roy has a particular interest in the butterflies of Eastern Himalayas and is working as a volunteer with, a peer-reviewed online resource devoted to Indian butterflies. He said David Lees of the Natural History Museum in London compared the butterfly with specimens in the museum collection and asked him to describe it.
“The process involved determining all the possible species and separating it from them. The genus Callerebia has some species that are difficult to separate but this particular species is one of the most visually distinctive. It is one of the largest Callerebia, with very rounded wings. The background colour is quite uniform compared to some other species in the genus. The white lines on the hind wing contrast with the background colour in a very striking manner. The eyespot on the hind wing is very prominent, while the forewing eyespot is very large and clearly defined. These features make it visually very beautiful,” he added.
The finding has been reported in the current issue of the Journal of Threatened Taxa.
Roy hopes the species has a local name. “The Mishmi weaving is renowned for its extremely intricate designs and butterflies such as the Northern Jungle Queen are thought to be the inspiration for some designs.” He said the discovery of a new butterfly species has become a rare event. “It highlights the biodiversity in Arunachal Pradesh and the potential for many more new species of flora and fauna to be discovered.”


Problems galore in Manas national park

Encroachment on rise in Manas

- After rampant poaching, the national park faces another problem
Manas National Park, which has already lost five rhinos since 2011 to poachers, is now facing a fresh wave of encroachment.
Sources said the encroachment was taking place at the Bhuyanpara range of the park and had increased over the past few months.
Till last year it was restricted to 4 square km area of the park but since July this year, the intensity has increased and a new area of 3 square km was cleared for cultivation.
“The fact is that the tall Terai grassland of Manas, which is the lifeline of endemic and endangered species like pygmy hog, Bengal florican and hispid hare, has been lost because of this. The productive grassland supports a flourishing population of Asian elephants, tigers and the growing population of one-horned rhinos,” a source said.
He said though the encroachment is for agriculture, the situation, if not controlled now, will take a serious turn and negate all the hard work for conservation.
“In fact, a rhino calf was born in one of the places which is now encroached. The authorities are aware of the matter but they have not acted on it. This way, entire Manas will be lost,” Ajoy Kherkatary of Manas Bhuyanpara Conservation Society, an NGO, said.
“A number of forces — the presence of militants and others — are at play in Manas which is making it extremely difficult to control,” a forest official said.
The alleged involvement of a conservation volunteer in rhino poaching in the park recently had made matters worse and the exit of WWF from the park because of deteriorating law and order situation is another of the many concerns, he added.
The World Heritage Committee early this year had said rhino poaching has been identified as a serious conservation threat at several World Heritage properties. It said the killing of the four translocated rhinos in Manas National Park has endangered the re-establishment of the species at this site.
The Centre through the state forest department will have to submit to the World Heritage Centre an updated report on the state of conservation of the property, including a report on the progress achieved in addressing the issue of funds release and the implementation of the other recommendations made by the committee at its 35th session (Unesco, 2011), by February 2014.
The other range in Manas — Panbari with an area of 16.3 square km — has already witnessed rampant encroachment with 912 people occupying the area. Though Rs 6.46 crore was sanctioned in 2009-2010 by the authorities to relocate these people on the fringes of the core area of the tiger reserve, nothing has happened till now.
“People are not willing to move out of Panbari range as they have settled here for many years. They want land and not money. The government would have to take a tough stand to oust them,” an official of Panbari range said.


India look to Bhutan for help in wildlife trade

NTCA looks to Bhutan for help

- Tiger parts recovered from Gelephu; 2 Indians held & punished

The National Tiger Conservation Authority, which is investigating the case of a tiger skin seizure in Bhutan last month, has asked the neighbouring country for a clear photograph of the tiger skin and the statements of the culprits arrested.
A delayed report reaching here said two Indian nationals were arrested by the Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit, Bhutan, at Gelephu on September 20 with tiger skin and bones.
“One tiger skin was seized in Bhutan and two Indians were arrested and penalised,” a source in the NTCA said, adding that they had requested for the photographs and statements before taking action.
A report prepared by M. Firoz Ahmed of Aaranyak, Jimmy Borah of WWF India’s tiger conservation programme and Yeshi Wangdi of Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan, on Identification of a tiger skin recovered at Gelephu town by authorities of Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan, says the tiger, the skin of which is in the custody of Bhutan, was first photo-captured in that country on November 18, 2010 and last at Bansbari range of Manas National Park in India on November 27, 2012.
The report was shared with the NTCA and submitted to the department of forest and park services, ministry of agriculture, Bhutan, early this month.
“The individual (tiger) was photo-captured multiple times on both sides of the border, indicating that it was actively using the area,” the report says. Since Manas National Park and Royal Manas National Park are contiguous, tigers move from one park to the other.
This tiger was also described in the report, Tigers Across Borders, brought out in 2012 by the forest departments of both the countries with assistance from conservation organisations of both the countries.
The combined database of the tigers in Manas landscape is possible because of the joint collaboration of Aaranyak, WWF India, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment and the Bodoland Territorial Council in India, and the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, Bhutan Foundation and the department of forest and park services in the neighbouring country.
Sources said the NTCA wanted to send a team from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of India to crack the network but the Bhutan government had declined, saying it had made thorough investigations and penalised the offenders under its Forest and Nature Conservation Act, 1995 and Rules, 2006.
It said it would liase with relevant agencies and seek the support of its counterparts across the border as and when needed to enforce the act and curb wildlife crime.
The report says the tigers of Manas National Park have been vulnerable to poaching and calls for joint initiatives like patrolling, sharing of information about illegal activities, for more effective conservation efforts. “We also suggest that the joint monitoring across the borders should continue to generate important information on tigers as well as other wildlife species,” it says.
Top officials of both the countries had met on February 20 this year to discuss joint conservation efforts.


NTCA concern over rhino poaching in Manas India

NCTA rues blow to Manas translocation

File picture of forest officials standing near the site where a rhino was killed last month at Manas National Park
The National Tiger Conservation Authority has said rhino poaching in Manas has dealt a “big blow” to the translocation initiative.
This was stated in a status report on Rhinos in Manas in STRIPES, the bimonthly outreach journal of NTCA, in their latest issue.
“Unfortunately, despite the best efforts and intentions of all stakeholders, poaching reared its ugly head. Given the small number of rhinos in the park, the killing of four rhinos (now six) has been a big blow to the translocation initiative,” the authority said.
An NTCA team had visited the reserve and efforts are on to support the state to strengthen monitoring and field protection.
The World Heritage Committee, early this year, had said killing of the translocated rhinos in Manas National Park has endangered the re-establishment of the species.
The tiger authority says factors revolving around poaching in Manas extend far beyond the site at various levels, both spatially as well as in terms of ethnic identity and politics.
A high-level meeting, which was held to discuss the security scenario in Manas early this year, said there are complex social, political and security dynamics involved in the matter.
However, the NTCA did not mention anything about Bodoland Territorial Council, which is an important factor in the conservation of Manas and on the increase in encroachment.
Despite the best efforts of the park authorities, 912 persons could not be relocated from Panbari range although they had been promised financial help.
It also said nothing on the action taken on poaching incidents in the park as there have been reports of militants roaming freely and setting up camps inside Manas.
Reports of “alleged telephone calls” made to WWF officials by militants demanding money have also sparked concern.
Confirming the use of sophisticated weapons in poaching, the bullets for which have been recovered, the NTCA says this directly points to outlawed militant groups, remnants of former insurgent groups of the region. “While the major groups have been largely brought under control and rehabilitated into normal civilian life, some splinter parties remain,” it said.
“As in case of other countries with rhinos, and to a lesser extent in India, extensive protection systems are no guarantee to completely controlling poaching,” it added.
The tiger authority said there is hope for emerging successfully from the current situation. “Nature itself has shown the way of survival. The translocated rhinos giving birth is ample proof that there indeed exists suitable habitat for this unique species to survive and breed,” the report stated.


Wildlife takes precedence over roads in protected areas of India

Curbs on roads in protected areas

Guwahati, Nov. 13: Road developers will now have to think twice before constructing or upgrading roads passing through protected areas in the country.
A sub-committee — constituted by the ministry of environment and forests to draft guidelines for roads in protected areas — has recommended that the foremost option would be to altogether avoid areas that are within or near any protected area and to find alternatives that are socially and ecologically more appropriate.
The committee has said that existing roads can be maintained and repaired in their current form and width but no widening or upgrading will be allowed.
On roads being managed by the forest department for the purpose of patrolling and tourism, it said no new roads should be constructed. If new roads must be built, then prior approval of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (in case of tiger reserves) must be obtained.
Thanks to sub-committee’s recommendations, conversion of the two-lane Harangajao-Udarband-Silchar section of NH-54 — that falls under the East-West Corridor project — into a four-lane road is likely to be hit. The proposal involves diversion of 24.1268 hectares of forest land from Borail wildlife sanctuary for upgrading the road section.
“If this happens, it will be a big national loss,” a NHAI official looking after the Silchar road section told The Telegraph. The East-West Corridor project is already getting delayed.
The sub-committee had met a number of times and submitted their report to the wildlife board that has now made its decision public (see chart).
The sub-committee has decided to adopt the guidelines in its present form and requested the chief wildlife wardens of different states to submit their comments, if any, on the guidelines to the ministry within a month so that necessary amendments can be made.
“Roads fragment an already highly fragmented habitat. Protected areas cover barely five per cent of India, and are already heavily fragmented by roads, canals and railway lines. Effective protection would barely cover two per cent of land in India. These are the last refuges of endangered and, in some cases, endemic species. We have to take a call: and I believe that at least in protected areas wildlife must get priority,” Prerna Bindra, member of the National Board for Wildlife, told The Telegraph. Former chief wildlife warden of Assam, Suresh Chand, who was present in the meeting, said a view needs to be taken in case of roads which were existent even before the sanctuary was notified and suggested that the guidelines should take this into consideration.
M.K. Ranjitsinh from the National Board for Wildlife was also present at the meeting where he quoted the example of the road that passes through Kaziranga National Park today. He said many animals, including rhinos, are killed on that road each year.