Guwahati: A parliamentary panel has expressed concern that the Rs 1,000 crore announced in the 2021-22 budget for tea workers in Assam and Bengal has not yet seen the light of the day.
This was stated in the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce report, placed in the Parliament this month.
“The Committee is perplexed to note that the Scheme of Pradhan Mantri Cha Shramik Protsahan Yojana, proposed in the budget speech of 2021-22, has not yet seen the light of the day. Despite the fact that the allocation of Rs 1000 crore has been made for the Scheme, which aims to enhance the quality of life of tea workers, especially women labourers, the delay in its execution is unwarranted,” the report said.
It said the appalling living conditions of tea workers in tea estates of West Bengal and Assam, coupled with the problem of low wages, are a matter of concern that needs immediate redressal.
The Committee recommended the Department make serious efforts to avoid any undue delay in the scheme implementation. It also opined that a high-level empowered committee be set up by the Government to enquire into the working conditions of tea workers to take appropriate measures for their welfare.
The Committee discussed the issues about the hardships faced by the Indian tea sector highlighting less budgetary allocation to the Tea Board, a major portion of which is spent on salaries and welfare measures and suggested modification in the Tea Act to facilitate the tea industry.
On the problems faced by small tea growers in Darjeeling, it noted, was that small tea growers of Darjeeling were unable to get adequate price for the tea leaves since the same is not being recognised as Darjeeling Tea under the provisions of Geographical Indication (GI) by the Tea Board.
On being enquired, the Department informed that Darjeeling tea, which received the GI status in 2005, was restricted to 87 gardens falling under the hill areas of Sadar, Kalimpong and the non-hill region of Kurseong in the district of Darjeeling, West Bengal.
“However, since 2005, around 800 small tea growers and mini tea factories (production is less than 500 kgs of tea per day) have come up within the aforesaid areas that are not recognised under the GI tag meant for Darjeeling Tea. As per the Tea Board, the mini-factories of small tea growers could not be run on a commercial basis and, therefore, allowing it to be registered under GI tag may lead to illegal supply of green leaf from Nepal,” it said.
The Committee said the absence of recognition of tea produced by small tea growers and mini tea factories as GI registered products by the Tea Board, despite being grown in areas of Darjeeling is worrisome.
“Unfavourable circumstances are being created wherein the small tea growers would be constrained to sell their products at a lesser margin and as a low premium tea,” the committee said.
The Committee has recommended that the inclusion of small tea growers under the GI ambit should be accompanied by the setting up of a monitoring mechanism to prevent any unscrupulous trade of Darjeeling Tea.
Tea Board is a statutory body constituted under the Tea Act, 1953 to discharge various functions, duties and responsibilities for the overall development of the tea industry in India. The functions of the Board are to develop effective management strategies to facilitate competence and innovation in tea plantations, processing as well as value addition in tea, augmentation of high-value tea exports, capacity building for human resources at all levels in the tea industry and strengthening of Research and Development efforts.
Tea Board functions as an apex body with zonal offices at Guwahati (Assam) and Coonoor (Tamil Nadu).
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