Centre changes tack on tea after criticism
The Union ministry of commerce has directed both the bought leaf factories and tea estate factories to route 50 per cent of their produce through auctions.
Earlier the ministry through a notification issued on April 15 had stipulated bought leaf tea factories to sell 70 per cent of tea through auctions, which had generated a lot of criticism from the industry and the Assam government.
"The new notification of directing both the bought leaf factories and the tea estate factories to route 50 per cent of the produce through the auctions is the result of a series of representations received from the industry by the ministry," a Tea Board of India official said.
The notification issued on October 1, called Tea (Marketing) Control (Second Amendment) Order, 2015, stated that the estate factories will also have to sell 50 per cent of their produce.
"Every registered tea manufacturer shall, on and from the date of commencement of this notification, sell not less than 50 per cent of the total tea manufactured in a calendar year through public tea auctions in India" the notification says.
The Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO) promulgated in April 1984, had provided for manufacturers of tea to sell not less than 75 per cent of their total annual production through public tea auction. There were a series of representations from all sections of the industry, urging the government for reconsideration of the stipulation of mandatory routing of teas through the auction system and the stipulation was finally taken back in 2001.
Chairman of Golaghat-based North Eastern Tea Association Bidyanand Barkakoty told The Telegraph that the April 15, 2015 notification and October 1, 2015 notification, which gave effect to amendment to clause or para 21 of the Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO), 2003, is not needed in a liberalised, globalised economy. Such compulsions should not be applicable to any segment of the manufacturers.
"All buyers registered with the Tea Board of India have not been subjected to the obligation of making 70 per cent of their purchase from the auction centres. Moreover, all the buyers registered with the Tea Board are not registered with the tea auction centres," he said.
He said the total arrivals of tea at GTAC from April to September (sale no 14 to 37) is about 103 million kg and sold quantity is about 59 million kg, which shows that there are huge percentage of teas that remain unsold. "If more teas come to the auction centres then there is every possibility that the unsold percentage will increase and prices may further dip," he added.
A senior official of a leading company said the question is whether the GTAC has the required infrastructure to handle the increased quantity of teas, which will come once the estate factories start sending 50 per cent of their produce.
"This will be a big setback to those gardens who had invested a lot of time and money in creating markets outside to get remunerative prices. By asking them to compulsorily route teas through the auctions will not be a wise decision," another official said.
Delhi vow to clear settlers
The issue will be discussed during the 39th meeting of the committee in Bonn, Germany, from June 29 to July 8.
The committee last year had asked the Centre through the state forest department to take urgent measures to address the fresh encroachment at Bhuyanpara range in the national park, and rehabilitate degraded areas.
The state of conservation report for Manas sent to the committee last month stated that a multi-pronged comprehensive long-term strategy has been chalked out for targeting the encroachers.
"Eviction of encroachers has to be done after the paddy cultivation season is over and to ensure that no further clearing in the grassland/forest is made. All access to forest, including grazing of livestock, collection of firewood and minor forest produce, fishing and hunting, to be strictly banned and the law enforced through strictest of measures," the report said.
The report prepared by the park said additional incentives such as provisioning for rations, vehicle and elephants for patrolling, wireless sets for communication and provisioning of winter gear are also being addressed to boost the morale of the staff.
It said deployment of two companies of eco-task force of Territorial Army under Union ministry of defence, which are currently based in Kokrajhar, has to be done for systematic area domination and undertaking plantation in the adjoining Daodhara and Batabari reserve forest areas.
The report said a systematic plan would be made for creating nursery and plantations in the reserve forest areas and complete closure of the national park to any anthropogenic pressures would have to be ensured for a complete revival of the habitat for wildlife.
Currently, Daodhara and Batabari reserve forests are facing an onslaught of clearing and illegal removal of trees.
There is a tremendous potential to create large-scale plantations through the eco-task force in both these areas.
"The advantage of bringing in the force is that they are trained army personnel and will ensure area domination against the armed miscreants that support encroachers," it said.
The report said encroachment at Bhuyanpara is a recurring problem and the socio-political situation, including the presence of militant outfits in the vicinity of the park, unauthorised and illegal possession of weapons by civilians and the prevalence of country-made fire arms have also been some of the factors that have led to land mafia-backed encroachment inside the park.
Park officials said the current encroachment is not of a permanent nature and the people from at least 30 villages from nearby areas participate in clearing and cultivating small portions of grassland. Such encroachment is often backed and controlled by armed miscreants who have been identified and the information shared with intelligence authorities.
"What the committee says will be final and will also decide on whether a monitoring mission needs to be sent or not to Manas," a source said.
Last year, the Centre assured the committee that proper steps would be taken to improve the ground situation and not to send a monitoring mission.
Guwahati in queue for tea cold storage
"This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the country according to my knowledge. We procure teas from plantations within 24-48 hours and this will immediately go to our cold storage facilities where they will be stored at negative temperatures for a long period of time," Kaushal Dugar, founder of Teabox, told The Telegraph.
Once the teas are procured from gardens, they will be cleaned, vacuum-packed and kept in cold storages, he said. An advanced cleaning unit will also be established for the purpose.
He said the cold storage centre at Siliguri would come up in two months. Guwahati and Coonoor will have the facility in the next six months to a year. The estimated cost for each facility is about Rs 3-4 crore.
The company has raised around $6 million in funds, which will be used primarily to support its growth in key markets, including setting up infrastructure.
He said high storage temperature and temperature changes significantly affect the physical, chemical and sensory quality of tea. Cold storage retains the tea quality, composition, flavour and colour. The temperature difference between day and night is also a factor leading to a qualitative change in tea.
"The rate at which tea loses its freshness and flavour also depends on the tea and how freshly it was packed. Our teas are particularly special because they are vacuum-packed at the origin and stored in controlled environment (cold) that retains the freshness/deliciousness all year long," he said.
N. Muraleedharan, director, Tea Research Association in Tocklai, said keeping teas in cold storage would keep them fresher for a longer period of time.
With its sourcing centres located in the tea-growing regions, Teabox procures teas directly from the growers, does extensive value-addition and ships them to customers all over the world.
Founded in 2012, the company delivers tea direct from its place of origin to customers and ships the world's freshest teas chosen by tea experts all over the world within 24-48 hours of production. It is delivered within three to five working days to customers worldwide.
The company offers the largest selection of single-estate teas online with a selection of more than 200 fresh teas from over 200 different plantations in Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiris, Kangra, rest of the Northeast and Nepal. The company claims it has delivered over 20 million cups worth of tea to customers in 75 countries.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the state budget this year had announced setting up of small cold storage units for storing green leaf during the peak-cropping season for small tea growers.