By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati/Agartala, April 14 (IANS) Most of the 850-odd tea gardens in the northeastern states, mostly in Assam, have started plucking and processing after weeks of suspension of works due to lockdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla in his consolidated guidelines asked the Chief Secretaries of all states and Union Territories to resume the works of the tea industries including plantation works with maximum of 50 per cent workers.
“Besides the lockdown measures, social distancing and proper hygiene practices must be ensured in the works of the tea gardens. Head of the organisations and establishments must ensure compliance of the norms and guidelines,” said Bhalla in his order, available with IANS.
Tea Association of India (TAI) Assam branch Secretary Dipanjal Deka said that Assam tea gardens have over 100 years of legacy to maintain discipline and hygiene.
“Most of the 800-odd tea gardens in Assam have started plucking, processing and relevant works from Monday and Tuesday. Not only this ongoing unusual situation, discipline and hygiene are always followed in tea gardens and the workers are very familiar with these practices,” Deka told IANS.
He said that around eight lakh workers are associated with the Assam tea gardens and processing works including in factories.
“All workers are using face masks and other protective gears when they are engaged in work. These masks are mostly made by the workers and their family members. Some NGOs are also providing various necessities to the workers,” TAI official said.
According to the tea garden owners and managers this year production and productivity in the tea industry in Assam and elsewhere in the country would be less due to late start of plucking and related processing.
Manager of Green View Tea Estate in Jorhat Dhrubajyoti Borthakur said: “A huge sigh of relief to the tea workers as they resume their work again after a few weeks. The opening of tea gardens in Assam would be seen as a significant step to gradually revive the economy at a time when there are grave challenges in the economy as well as health concerns and livelihood.”
According to experts, the tea bushes have grown much beyond their stipulated height due to the lockdown since March 25 and all the extra leaves would be pruned leaving two leaves and a bud for producing tea leaves.
Tea planter in Barak valley region (southern Assam) B. N. Bhattacharya said the irrigation facilities of the gardens have also started watering the tea bushes after over two weeks.
Of the total domestic tea production of 1,325.05 million kg last year, 720 million kg came from Assam, which on an average produces 52 per cent of India’s total tea.
In 1990, Assam’s tea production was only 388 million kgs which has grown to 692 million kgs in 2018 and 720 million kg last year (2019).
Assam has 765 big tea gardens and over 1.20 lakh small tea growers engaging around 8 lakh workers in this organised industry.
After Assam, Tripura is the second largest producer of tea in the northeastern region producing around 10 million kg of tea annually from an area of 6,885 hectares under tea cultivation.
Tripura Tea Development Corporation Chairman Santosh Saha said that works in most of the 54 tea gardens and 15 of the 21 processing factories in Tripura have started since early this week after three weeks of shutdown due to country-wide lockdown.
“With late start of plucking and subsequent processing, the production and productivity in the tea industry in Tripura would be less this year. After the ensuing rains, plucking of green leaves would be useless. So, though late, this is the appropriate time to start the plucking,” Saha told IANS.
Tripura Industries and Commerce Department Secretary G. K. Dinkarrao said that they received an order from the MHA (Ministry of Home Affaits) earlier this month to resume work in the tea gardens of the state with some preconditions — deploying a maximum of 50 per cent of the workforce, keeping social distance and hygiene and wearing masks.
About 20,000 people are directly employed in the 54 big gardens in Tripura, with another 15,000 people involved in 230 small gardens, contributing immensely to the growth of the state’s overall economy.