Saturday, June 22, 2024
North East

Assam small tea growers facing uncertainty as factories to stop production over quality regulations

GUWAHATI, MAY 26: Small tea growers in Assam, who account for nearly half of the tea grown in this North Eastern State, are staring at uncertainty with the bought leaf tea factories (BLFs) to stop procuring their green leaves from next month over quality compliance regulations.
The Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association (ABLTMA) had announced shutting down its factories from June 1 as it is not possible to produce FSSAI-compliant teas from untested green leaves provided by small growers.
A Team Board India notification earlier this year made it mandatory for manufacture of only compliant tea by the BLFs.
With no testing done of the green leaves, if the made tea is found non-compliant when sent for mandatory public auction, the failed teas will be destroyed with penal action against the BLFs, as per the notification.
The small-scale planters, on their part, maintained that they are working on cent per cent compliance by all their members, while urging for more time to ensure it and seeking Government intervention in the matter.
“We have written to the State Government and Tea Board to intervene. But we have not received any response yet”, working president of All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association (AASTGA) Karuna Mahanta told PTI.
Referring to the notification which also made routing of 100% dust teas through public auctions mandatory, he said it was decided last month to maintain status quo till elections are over.
“The BLFs were to continue procuring green leaves as earlier. But this sudden decision by the factories has taken us aback”, Mahanta said.
The AASTGA has dashed off separate letters to the State Government and Tea Board, seeking their intervention while also expressing concern that this unilateral decision of the ABLTMA was a ploy to lead to drop in prices of green leaves.
Expressing similar concern, Jatin Chandra Bora, advisor of Lakhimpur district committee of AASTGA, said, “This is a strategy to bring down the prices of the green leaves as such a decision creates pressure on the grower to sell off at whatever price is given.”
He maintained that the small growers are now aware of harmful effects of pesticides and are ensuring on producing safety standards-compliant leaves.
“We have been demanding for facilities for testing the green leaves in the factories itself. Currently, we have to send the samples to Kolkata and it takes long to get the results. By that time, the leaves have to be sold off already”, Bora said.
The ABLTMA had last week said its member factories will not operate until compliant green leaves are provided, which is nearly impossible for the small growers in the absence of testing facilities in the State.
“The BLFs do not use any chemical in the manufacturing process. But we are being made to pay for non-compliance by the growers”, ABLTMA president Chand Gohain told PTI.
“The Tea Board notification was given without consulting the BLFs. We had met the Union Commerce Minister over the issue in March. Even after his intervention, we are awaiting a positive step from the Board”, he added.
Gohain also pointed out that it is a “matter of shame that Assam doesn’t have a single testing laboratory even after celebrating 200 years of Assam tea”.
He said a meeting of all stakeholders has been conveyed by the Government on May 29, adding that the ABLTMA will continue pushing for withdrawal of the Tea Board notification.
As per Tea Board India data, there are a total of 1,25,484 small tea growers in the State, who have 1,17,304 hectares of land under cultivation and contribute nearly 48% of the total tea produced annually in the State.
Most of the green leaves of small growers are sold to the BLFs, with the ABLTMA having about 250 member factories under it. (PTI)

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