Arun Kumar Ray, deputy chairman, Tea Board of India, told FE that the state government will have to do the coronavirus management.
Even as Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has favoured opening of tea estates, locked down due to coronavirus outbreak, from April 1, garden owners couldn’t resume operations since the deputy commissioners of the tea garden bearing districts could not come up with guidelines for operations that has to be maintained as measures in the wake of Covid-19.
Sonowal chaired a meeting of the council of ministers on March 30, wherein it was decided that the tea estates should contact their respective deputy commissioners “for approval to resume operations from April 1 of plucking and processing in their tea estates.”
This decision was taken in view of getting the reap of the first flush, which in general is of good quality and fetches a better price. Besides, the tea gardens were closed during December, January and February by an order of the tea board to get better yields and so the stock in the pipeline is nearly over. For this, the market needs fresh supplies, for which a section of the tea garden owners had approached the Assam government to grant permission for resuming operations.
However, district commissioners were unable to frame guidelines for operations within a day under the Covid-19 circumstance, for which none of the gardens could resume operations on April 1.
Arun Kumar Ray, deputy chairman, Tea Board of India, told FE that the state government will have to do the coronavirus management. For this, the state government has asked the deputy commissioners to frame a safety protocol following which the tea estate owners will run their operations. But Azam Monem, former chairman of the Indian Tea Association, said none of the gardens in Assam could resume operation because the safety protocol has not yet been framed.
“We are preparing a protocol from our side and that will be made effective only after April 14. But if the district authorities come out with protocols or guidelines earlier the garden owners can run operations following that,” Ray said.
Monem, who is also a director in Mcloed Russels, said April 14 is too far. The garden owners were looking for clarity in guidelines from the district authorities and that should come in a day or two.
“Under a Covid-19 circumstance it should be made clear how many workers can work together in a garden. What are also taking other safety measures that should be taken while plucking leaves?”
Ray said resuming operation in the gardens was necessary since the 55 million kgs stock pile with the Tea Board was nearly over and new production has to come to the pipeline. There is already a shortfall of 100 million kgs but the first flush production of Assam and Doars can make up for it to some extend if the crop is harvested in a day or two. But 60-75% of the first flush production of Darjeeling tea has been lost and this is the variety that goes to the international market and fetches a very high price.
“There is likely to be short supply of tea in the market during May-June but we hope to tide over the problems by August,” Ray said.
Pradeep Ganeriwal, a tea estate owner, is of the view that there is a possibility of a crop between the first and second flush but skiffing of the tea bushes are much required. He said while there has been a only 3% growth in production over the years, production needs to grow since there would be no dearth of demand.