The Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA), the oldest tea organisation in the state comprising mostly of indigenous tea Planters, has sought a bailout out package from the government for the beleaguered organised tea sector in the state.
Addressing the 82nd annual general meeting of ATPA here on Saturday, chairperson Nazrena Ahmed said that survival of the organised tea sector was at stake in a scenario of falling prices of tea and spiraling production and overhead costs.
Ahmed said that since 2012 tea prices had fallen as compared to Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) and that further erosion of prices in the auctions would severely cripple the economy of the State and would be a death knell to the 182 year-old industry that employs 12 lakh people directly.
She pointed out that contrary to the falling trend of the prices in the auctions, the cost of every input in the manufacturing of tea had gone up manifold.
“It is not just auction prices we have to address, there were other bundle of issues affecting the industry from two percent tax deducted at source on cash withdrawal, lack of urea due to Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation at Namrup not functioning coupled with lack of train tracks to bring urea from other States to the listing of natural gas supply to tea industry as non-priority by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board,” Ahmed said.
Calling for a level playing field, she said that the organised tea sector had to adhere to several government Acts including the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, which did not apply to small tea growers who were now producing 51 per cent of tea.
“These had severely increased input costs for the organised sector over which the producer had no control,” she said.
Ahmed stated that in spite of stringent cost cutting measures the industry was undertaking the sector was limping towards a “bleak future”.
She said that the tea is now “not the cup of joy but the cup of woes brimming over”.
Ahmed further said that an imbalance in prices, which was the case of prices in auction centres going downward and stagnating, but the individual customer, was purchasing tea at more than hundred times the auction average prices.
Ahmed suggested that tea be given a minimum benchmark price as per the Swaminathan formula for agricultural commodities which would provide a modicum of relief to the industry.
While stating that there was scope to increase exports and employability, the government should give a revival package and extend the Green Climate fund for zero budget natural farming for continued sustainability for the next 100 years.
She further said that the industry has sustained itself for 182 years, but now the industry was at crossroads and in a conundrum, for the way forward a paradigm shift was required by all stakeholders.