The tea industry has sought the support of the Centre on the issue of the Rs. 160-crore that it has spent over the last decade to help maintain a plantation security force which became necessary since the days of the separatist ethnic movements of outfits such as the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) which virtually kept the industry at gunpoint. Industry leaders like Surendra Paul of the Appejay group had fallen to the bullets of such movements in 1990.
“The tea industry bears the cost of providing security to its personnel in Assam,” Aditya Khaitan, Chairman of the Indian Tea Association, said and added that the erstwhile Assam Tea Plantation Security Force had recently migrated to its new form as the Assam Industry Security Force. Assam accounts for about 50 per cent of India’s tea output.
“The annual expenditure estimated at some Rs. 16 crore may not be a very significant sum from the perspective of government but it involves a cost incidence of around Rs. 1.5 a kg of made-tea. During the last ten years of recession in the tea industry, some Rs. 160 crore had been drained out of the Assam tea industry on this account,” he said during the ITA’s meeting with the Commerce Minister last week.
He said the ITA had been in discussion with the Home Ministry on this account and its representation seeking mitigation of this cost by the government was pending consideration.
Mr. Khaitan said that as India remains the highest cost tea producer in the world, welfare costs borne by the Indian tea industry (on account of housing, healthcare, education and subsidized ration) is a factor that weighs down on the industry, since producers of other countries are not constrained by any legislation that bounds them to carry this cost.
“Welfare costs works out to more than Rs 7 per kgs of made tea”, he said.