DIGBOI, Oct 22 � The big factories operating in Margherita subdivision have thrown the small tea growers of the subdivision to dark despair with their iron fists in velvet gloves policies. They begin to implement the policy from September every year when the production of the small tea gardens begins to gain momentum.
Their strategy is to keep the green leaf-loaded vehicles waiting outside the factory gate saying that they will have to see the quantity of their own plucking of the day and then only they will know whether to take the loads of the bought leaf. For about a fortnight they admit the small tea garden leaf collectors to off load in the particular factory, but at a reduced price after three to five hours� worried waiting.
In the next stage, the big factories resort to refuse to take in a few of the green leaf loads of the collectors of the small tea-gardens and further lower the prices of the �accepted� loads. And this method continues throughout October. As of today, prices per kilogram of green tea leaf varies from Rs 6 to Rs 5 from factory to factory without any rational justification. The whole exercise is arbitrary and the operative of the law is not felt anywhere reducing the small tea growers to helpless victims of the unscrupulous bosses of the big factories.
The volume of losses suffered by the small tea growers can be made out from the calculation as follows. The small tea growers have to pay Rs 2.50 per kg of green leaf to the pluckers, Rs 1.50 to Rs 2 to the collectors, besides an average of Re 1 for medicines and chemicals apart from the minimum overall maintenance cost of Rs 7 per kg of green tea leaf. When, therefore, the price offered is Rs 5 per kg the small tea-growers sustain a loss of Rs 5 to Rs 6 per kg.
It is also alleged that some of the big bought leaf factories deny accurate weight of the bought leaf supplies collected by the agents from different small tea gardens. Complaints about inaccurate weight are serious enough but the small tea growers have to console themselves by blaming their own fates only. The department of weights and measures is there, but little relief flows to the small tea-growers.
The Tea Board also appears to be ineffectual in exercising their control upon the big tea-leaf factories. The plight of the small tea-growers continues. The cess levied by the government upon the small tea-growers at the rate of 25 paise per kg of green leaf also continues to be paid, though during certain periods of the year they have to pay it from their own pockets for little or no benefit whatsoever.