GUWAHATI, May 12 - The COVID-induced shutdown of the tea industry for two weeks during the peak season will result in an estimated crop loss of around 70 million kilograms in Assam. The Tea Association of India, a major body of tea producers, has urged the Government of Assam to announce a relief package to help the industry tide over the crisis.
The Association has estimated a total crop loss to the tune of around 110 million kg across the country. �The shutdown at the beginning of the manufacturing season has virtually disabled the tea sector as seasonal production of the sector has ceased,� it stated.
The tea producers� body has written to the Commissioner and Secretary of the State Industry and Commerce Department, seeking the government�s assistance on matters related to payment of wages, provident fund, credit issues, ration, loan repayment, et al.
The Association has also stated that the onus of payment of full wages during the COVID-19 lockdown period may be waived as the gardens do not have the required liquidity.
�Payment of provident fund to the tea workers of all registered gardens is for three months, on the same lines as proposed by the Central government. However, as the tea industry is labour-intensive and the output per worker in terms of rupee value is less, the employment criteria of maximum 100 workers may be removed. In case of Assam, which has its own managed Provident Fund for tea workers, the deposit by the Central government shall have to be made to Assam Tea Employees Provident Fund Organization on behalf of employers and employees,� the Association stated.
It also urged the government to make a provision for issuing ration to the workers for the next six months on behalf of the management.
�The tea plantation sector would require a 25 pc increase in working capital limits up to March, 2021, to ensure that estates run smoothly and without any defaults. It may be mentioned that the State Bank of India has recently announced a 10 pc increase in cash credit limits. This needs to be done across the board,� it added.
Regarding loan repayment, the organization said that the tea industry has been under acute financial stress for the last few years, which has impeded its viability. It urged the government for a one-year moratorium on all loan repayments and also interest payments to prevent most companies from defaults. It further demanded a reduction in the interest rate on all credit to tea gardens and tea companies to four per cent per annum for the season 2020. �If banks aren�t willing, the government should provide the necessary assistance to the banks and declare a relief package,� the memorandum stated.
It further asked the government to extend the validity of the Assam Taxation (Liquidation of Arrears Dues) Act, 2017, up to June 2020.
The Association also asked the government to allow deployment of workers for developmental work under the MGNREGA scheme within the tea estates, extend the benefits of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to the tea gardens and a waiver in the electricity demand charge for the lockdown period.