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Assam tea group pegs COVID-19 lockdown losses at ₹1,218 crore

Much of the projected loss has been attributed to ‘skiffing’ or the removal of overgrown tea leaves that are not fit for harvesting. | File   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

An association of planters has estimated that Assam’s tea industry would end up losing at least ₹1,218 crore due to the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The estimate has been based on the Tea Board of India’s month-wise data on crop yield and the figure could be higher if the lockdown is extended beyond May 3, the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) said.

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Much of the projected loss has been attributed to ‘skiffing’ or the removal of overgrown tea leaves that are not fit for harvesting. Non-plucking of fresh leaves at regular intervals necessitates skiffing that adds to the expenditure besides a recovery period of three weeks for the tea bushes to become ready for plucking.

“It is expected that normal tea production operations will start from April 15 following guidelines from the Ministry of Home Affairs exempting the tea industry from the purview of lockdown subject to conditions such as operating with 50% workforce,” NETA advisor Bidyananda Borkakoty said on Wednesday.

But the damage, industry captains asserted, has already been done.

“Tea plantation in Assam is seasonal in nature and the lockdown happened after an unproductive off-season gap had ended around the second week of March,” Mr. Borkakoty told The Hindu. “The tea gardens had to close down from March 22 making the estates lose almost the entire March crop estimated to be about 30 million kg,” he added.

According to Tea Board of India figures, the tea harvest in Assam in March 2019 was 4.6% of the State’s annual production for that year, which was 715.79 million kg.

In 2019, the tea harvest in April and May — the most productive and qualitative month for the industry — was 6.3% and 9.3% of the total annual production.

“Due to prolonged lockdown, about 35% leaves of our plantations will have to be skiffed leading to crop loss of 30 million kg in April and 20 million kg in May. The total crop loss will thus be 80 million kg,” Mr. Borkakoty said.

Going by the average auction price of ₹152.26 per kg for tea from North India (Assam included) in 2019, the loss works out to ₹1,218 crore, NETA projected in a study.

Other organisations such as the Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association and Assam Tea Planters’ Association pointed out that the 197-year-old tea industry in the State did not have a tradition of laying off workers when faced with a financial crisis, unlike other industries.

The government should therefore consider evolving measures to mitigate the impending revenue loss, the industry groups urged.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 3:04:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assam-tea-group-pegs-covid-19-lockdown-losses-at-1218-crore/article31347920.ece

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