Sankar Ray/ Kolkata
More than 86 per cent of small growers in India continue to be outside the ambit of regulations…
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its performance audit report (PAR) on Tea Board of India, the apex monitoring authority on tea economy which is a mix of agriculture and industry, indicted the latter for virtually looking down upon several thousand small tea growers or tea farmers who sell tea-leaves to large tea companies which in turn convert them into made-teas for the market.
"Even after more than five decades of existence, Tea Board has failed to discharge even its basic regulatory role effectively. More than 86 per cent of small growers in India continue to be outside the ambit of regulations by the Tea Board. System of inspection for regulating the activities of various shareholders was weak and non-transparent. Tea Board was not able to ensure submission of business information by stake holders so as to exercise effective control on their activities", the CAG stated in its PAR, submitted to the department of commerce, Government of India. The DoC oversees and monitors the functioning of Tea Board.
Small-growers have a conspicuous presence due to a strong co-operative movement in Tamil Nadu, Nilgiris in particular, unlike in two largest tea-producing states, Assam and West Bengal .There are co-operative factories in Nilgiris to small tea growers with very small holdings sell their produce at remunerative prices. They formed a central organisation of 15 Industrial Cooperative Tea Factories - Tamilnadu Small Tea Growers Industrial Cooperative Tea Factories' Federation Limited (INDCOSERVE). In fact, the Indcoserve and Industrial Cooperative Tea Factories are the largest producers and sellers of tea in Nilgiris with a 17 per cent share in total production in the state.
The Indcoserve set up a network of services for co-operative tea factories along with warehousing facilities in Coonoor, Coimbatore and Cochin. Supply of fertilizers and jute bags for packing of tea, machinery spares, and other inputs to the small tea grower members through tea factories are a part of the network. Small wonder, Tea Board admitted in its reply, 16.904 small tea estates have been officially registered and 75,332 are registered provisionally.
In contrast, DoC concedes, "In Assam, most of the small growers do not possess the required land documents to establish their ownership. Because of this reason, as against, 69,000 small growers in Assam, as of date, only 3943 growers have been registered with the Tea Board.
Rather, the situation is slightly better in northern part of West Bengal, the tea-growing segment of the state . Small tea growers in north Bengal have made an all-out effort to form self-help groups and subsequently, co-operative societies to set up bought-leaf factories in order to generate better financial resources. They formed a body, United Forum of Small Tea Growers Association which submitted a proposal to the Tea Board for setting up a bought-leaf factory under a co-operative ownership.
However all this is in a very rudimentary stage. There are about 28,000 small tea growers producing 225 million kg of tealeaves on an average a year. The Indian Institute of Plantation Management, Bangalore and Tea Board organised a workshop for the small growers a couple of years back. It was agreed that new bushes produce good quality teas, provided proper adoption techniques are imparted to the growers. Self-help groups the UFSTGA envisions, is of Kenyan model.
Tea Board secretariat is sympathetic towards small-growers but large estates that dominate the Indian Tea Association and Tea Association of India are a hindrance to self-reliance of small growers. This powerful lobby wants to keep buying green leaves at low prices and mint high profits using the under-utilised capacities in in-situ factories in large tea estates. Tea Board has granted financial assistance to the state governments of Assam, West Bengal and Tripura for a survey for enumerating small tea growers. The reports are awaited. Hopefully, Tea Board will submit a plan for a comprehensive development of small tea sector in view of the growing demand for the non-alcoholic and medicinally strong beverage in India and abroad.