Assam tea industry faces closure during lockdown

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‘No instruction regarding paying of wages to the workers’

HT Correspondent

JORHAT, March 24: Even more worse days are ahead for the already beleaguered tea industry of Assam.

The Consultative Committee of Plantations Associations (CCPA), a joint forum of all plantations in the country, which met through a video conference on Tuesday morning, affirmed that the Assam tea gardens lockdown is inevitable as per government directive.

The CCPA would also take up with Central and state governments on financial loss and other aspects regarding immediate relief and short term and long term aid after things normalize.

Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser, North East Tea Association said that the CCPA had informed that as human lives were more important than anything else, they would therefore co-operate and co-ordinate with the government in every possible way at this hour of grave crisis.

Barkakoty said that the Association had re-confirmed with the state government that tea garden operations in Assam would close down from 6 PM on Tuesday till March 31 midnight.

Barkakoty said that as per the notification issued by the state government of Assam on March 23 for a lockdown of the state in view of the novel coronavirus pandemic, two things had emerged for the tea industry.

The first was that in response to the clause 6: ‘Any other essential that may be exempted by the Government’, that tea is no more under essential commodities as per the TEA FORUM,  a pan India WhatsApp group of tea producers.

Barkakoty said that the second referred to clause 6: “Production and Manufacturing units requiring continuous process may continue to function after obtaining necessary approval from the District Magistrate, with limited staff” and that according to Tea Research Association under which Tocklai Tea Research Institute runs tea is a continuous process.

Therefore essential plant protection measures and irrigation would be required to avoid huge and permanent damage to tea plants.

“These two activities could be carried out with very limited number of workers and by maintaining social distancing. We will seek necessary permission from authorities as and when required,” Barkakoty said.

He further said that during the lockdown period the workers would have to be paid despite no production or plucking taking place.

A manager of a corporate tea house, however, said that they had not received any instructions regarding paying of wages to the workers.

The tea industry of Assam, especially the corporate sector was already reeling under high cost of production, low price realisation and high overheads, a few of them closing shop in recent years.

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