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Assam small tea growers seek help to overcome lockdown loss

A tea worker plucks tea leaf in a tea garden in the out skirts of Guwahati on April 17, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Assam’s small tea growers, a category of planters who own up to 10 hectares of land, have sought “a bit of hand-holding” from the State government for overcoming lockdown losses.

Most of the State’s 1.72 lakh small tea growers do not have the resources of the major tea estate chains to absorb weeks of inactivity such as the one forced upon them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The labourers they employ allegedly do not get adequate share of welfare measures provided by the government to plantation workers of the 803 major estates.

“The least the government can do is provide adequate relief for our labourers and employees and make subsidised manure available to the growers toward compensating their losses in the near future,” said Tagar Neog, president of All Assam Small Tea Growers Association.

He said that only a select few among the 13 lakh labourers employed by the small tea growers have been issued BPL (below poverty line) and ration cards while many of them were unaware of the benefits they are entitled to.

“More than 40% of our labourers are in a very grave condition and they need help urgently,” Mr. Neog told The Hindu, reminding the government of the Prime Minister’s 2019 announcement that small tea growers have been made eligible for subsidised agricultural manure.

Wastage of leaves

The association’s secretary Kailyan Dutta said small tea growers suffered a loss of ₹1,598 crore within a month of the imposition of lockdown from March 25 because of wastage of about 64 million kg of tea leaves.

“Apart from the novel coronavirus, small tea growers are battling unemployment too, as the educated unemployed had taken up tea farming two decades ago as a means of livelihood,” Mr. Dutta said.

Members of the association fear it could be back to square one if the small tea growers cannot fail to touch the productivity and sale levels before the lockdown happened. The government had on May 8 allowed the tea estates, big and small, to start operation with 100% workforce.

Spread across 89,948 hectares, the small tea gardens produced 1,023.23 million kg of green tea leaves in 2019, which was 51.04% of the total tea produced by Assam that year.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 4:42:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assam-small-tea-growers-seek-help-to-overcome-lockdown-loss/article31582980.ece

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