TTDC chairman Santosh Saha

The once loss making state owned Tripura Tea Development Corporation (TTDC) has achieved the impossible.

Under the dynamic leadership of its new chairman Santosh Saha, TTDC has more than doubled its made tea output in just two years and come close to breaking even.

In the process, TTDC has given Tripura tea a new image with a new logo which has helped growers fetch higher rates at auctions and turn its gardens into profit centres.

When Saha took charge of TTDC after BJP’s advent to power in 2017, the corporation was only producing 1.72 lakhs kgs of made tea.

“Our factories had a capacity to produce 5 lakhs kgs, so it was a colossal waste of available resource and capacity. Workers were delaying plucking and leaves were getting fibrous. The image of our tea was horrible and prices fetched at auctions were low and not good enough to cover production costs,” Saha told Northeast Now.

The politician turned tea boss admits he pushed both managers and workers real hard to change the work culture that had fallen victim to “endemic irresponsible unionism” of the ruling Marxists.

“Timely and standard plucking now has helped us improve both output and quality,” said Santosh Saha, adding, “Accountability has been restored.”

Against an annual output of 1.72 lakhs kgs of made tea in 2017, TTDC’s 2018 output jumped to 2.98 lakhs kgs and in 2019, it has touched 4.40 lakhs kgs.

“Same workers, same managers, similar resources but just see how a change in work ethic can produce dramatic results,” Saha said. “We will produce 5 lakh kgs in 2020,” he said.

Against an average price range of Rs 135 to 150 per kg of CTC tea, TTDC was now fetching between Rs 15 to 20 more per kg in auctions.

“We are sending more teas to Calcutta instead of Guwahati auctions because we are fetching much better prices there. We have hit the price range of Rs 170 to Rs 180 per kgs with some lots even crossing Rs 200 mark,” Saha said

He said the TTDC have decided to reward workers by increasing their wage from Rs 105 to Rs 135 per day with corresponding hike in bonus and perks.

This, he said, was rubbing on to private planters who had been in a ‘somewhat absentee mode’.

“When government corporations show results, private planters have to stop complaining and must begin to deliver,” said Saha.

He said the small growers who are in a hands-on mode have taken the cue faster and improved both output and variety.

Some growers are producing quality orthodox and green tea fetching high prices.

Gopal Chakrabarty’s Monoroma brand of fully organic green and black tea had even fetched Rs 2600 to 2800 per kgs. Santosh Saha said some tribal growers like Kalyan Debbarma have also produced top quality organic green and black tea.

“Their dash and push should shake up the big growers who had grown complacent and appeared resigned to the current predicament,” Saha told Northeast Now in an exclusive interview at ‘Tea Corner’ next to the state central library here.

The top brands like Ludhua Hills organic green tea are showcased at the Tea Corner at the library which draws thousands of readers every day.

Saha has broken fresh ground in marketing, pushing the Tripureswari brand of CTC into the state’s PDS system   thus securing an assured market that cuts down liquidity worries for growers.

“Since Tripura tea like Assam tea has strong liquor and goes well with milk and sugar, we plan to push our output to defence services and also export to countries where consumers like strong liquor with milk and sugar,” Saha said.

Bangladesh suffers a shortfall of 65 lakh kgs in its domestic market.

“Our chief minister Biplab Deb has already broached the idea of selling Tripura tea to Bangladesh with PM Sheikh Hasina and we hope we will start exporting to Bangladesh soon,” said Saha.

Tripura tea can also get buyers from traditional importers of strong Indian tea like Russia, Iran, even Pakistan, says the state’s leading tea analyst Samir Ghosh.

“Once the output and quality stabilises, we will hit the export market big time. And we will do it not packaged as Assam tea by wily retailers but as Tripura tea with its distinct logo and identity,” Ghosh told Northeast Now.

“We may gain new markets through Bangladesh re-exporters,”  he said.

Tripura has 54 gardens, eleven of which had been abandoned during Marxist rule.

Six of these 11 gardens have now been revived. TTDC chairman Santosh Saha says he has closed the gap between expenditure and sales and promises to break even in 2020 for the first time since the corporation came into existence in 1980.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com