MORAN, April 1 - The tea industry, which is grappling with the challenges of cut-throat competition today, discussed ways to make the industry more sustainable and thriving.
The Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association (ABITA) said that the spiraling cost of production was an impediment to the competitiveness of the tea industry and therefore stressed upon the need to make serious efforts in undertaking cost controlling exercises.
Ranjan Saikia, Chairman of ABITA, while addressing the planters during its 127th annual general body meeting at Moran Polo Club ground today said that ever-increasing cost of production in terms of cost of electricity, coal, plant protection chemicals, irrigation and increasing wages was alarming for the industry.
�Although nothing much can be done about the price escalation of essential inputs and also the hike in wages, we have to explore ways to cut down costs,� he said.
On the much-hyped digitalisation policy, the Chairman said the State Government must ensure infrastructure development and improved telecom connectivity in the plantation areas to facilitate digital services.
Several representatives of tea planters� associations like the NETA, BCP, TAI and ATPA, who attended the meeting corroborated ABITA�s view that due to lack of connectivity, digital payments would not be possible in the tea gardens. Saikia said that unless problems of connectivity are addressed by the service providers with active Government intervention, digital service will be a farce in the tea estates.
The Chairman also urged the State Government to restore the supply of foodgrain (rice and flour) under the PDS quota at APL rates for distribution of rations to its workers. �Although the ration supply was discontinued after implementation of the National Food Security Act in the State, the tea industry is still providing foodgrains to its workers at subsidized rates by purchasing it from the open markets. This additional cost has drained the tea industry of more than Rs 250 crores.
If the Government restores the earlier allocation, it will be a much-needed relief to the industry as it is not possible for the industry to bear the burden any longer. The ABITA Chairman also called upon the State Government to ensure uninterrupted power and natural gas supply.
The Indian Tea Association (ITA) Chairman Azam Monem in his address called upon the planters to pay high price to the small tea growers for their produce to help them produce quality leaves. �To enable the small tea growers to emerge as a sustainable quality producer, we must ensure that the price of leaf is considerably higher for the sector to plough back and invest in expensive but compliant plant protective substances. Monem also stressed on propagating categories of tea products in the form of beverages, both hot and cold. He also urged upon the planters not to neglect the domestic market.
Professor Alak Kumar Buragohain, Vice Chancellor of Dibrugarh University, who attended the meeting as its chief guest, said that the industry must change its model for sustainability and to be at the competitive edge of the market.
�The tea industry must adopt and promote some of the components connected with the market. It has to have strong ethical values like ensuring rights of its stakeholders, transparency to the stakeholders and welfare, besides research-based annual reports. Unless there is ethical, moral and value-based policies, the tea industry cannot cope up with the dynamics of supply and demand, labour diversities, new advances in technologies, environmental issues, etc. Unless these are put into perspective, the industry cannot look forward and or find acceptance in the market,� the Vice Chancellor said. He also talked about industry-academia interface.
The meeting was also addressed by Dr Tushar Rane, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Assam and representatives of BCP, NETA, ITA and ATPA. A new committee of ABITA was also announced during the meeting for the next term. The office-bearers include Chairman AH Choudhury, Vice Chairman NK Dhama and Additional Vice Chairman S Bhora.
The ABITA also gave away the Best Farmer Award to Sanjit Saikia of Natun Borbil, Lahoal. Dr Rajen Kumar Gogoi of Baghjan TE bagged the Family Welfare Award, while Dr SK Borgohain of Dhoedaam TE received the runners-up prize.
The vote of thanks was subsequently offered by ABITA Vice Chairman NK Dhama.