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Tea production commences in State gardens

By Ron Duarah

DIBRUGARH, April 11 - Plucking of tea leaves commenced in several districts of the State today, and even as this piece is being written, the tea factories are being worked up, beginning with the firing of the withering troughs. With the climate favourable this year, the overall tea production should be at par with recent averages. All now await the post Bihu seasonal rains, for the really good second flush (of tea leaves) to grow.

Today�s meeting to discuss opening of tea garden in Tinsukia district went off well, with all the planters happy that Deputy Commissioner Bhaskar Pegu has allowed tea gardens, small tea growers and bought leaf tea factories to function from tomorrow. However, the Tinsukia administration has insisted on strict compliance of all COVID-19 safety protocol in all facets of tea production, right from plucking of leaves up to packaging of made tea. Of course, the planters agreed in unison, though the compliances mean additional cost of production by way of safety and hygiene gear purchase.

On the north bank of the Brahmaputra too, Dhemaji, Biswanath, Sonitpur, Darrang, etc., districts have permitted functioning of the tea industry; the only condition being adherence to COVID-19 safety precautions. On the south bank, many tea gardens will commence production activities on Sunday.

A senior executive of the world�s oldest tea company, Assam Company India Limited, told this newspaper that plucking in seven tea gardens of the group began this morning with workers enthusiastically reporting for work. The rest, in the Sivasagar and Tinsukia districts, work would begin on Sunday.

Yes, the women pluckers looked smarter today in their safety gear, like face masks, etc. And as they were separated from each other by about 10 feet, it was an uncommon sight to see workers plucking tea leaves maintaining the distance from each other. But they were cheerful, the senior executive said, asking that he need not be named.

The Indian tea industry is facing cut throat competition from tea estates in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

These two countries are stiff competition to the Assam and Darjeeling plantations on the price front.

Senior tea plantation advisor Saurav Shankar said the tea workers also are beginning to realize the challenges posed to the Assam tea industry by those in Nepal and Bangladesh, and hence are keen that the tea plantations in the State begin production as soon as possible.

Shankar said the average cost of making a kilo of good quality tea in the Brahmaputra Valley is in the range of Rs 200 to 225. With the average tea auction prices fetching just about Rs 170 is not helping the tea managements at all. However, though the tea producers claim to make no money, the end consumer continues to buy tea at costs upwards of Rs 100 per 100 gram, i.e., Rs 1,000 per kilo. Obviously, the brokers, blenders and retailers are raking in the moolah. But that�s another story.

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