By Monikuntal Baruah
Many news reports appeared in the recent past on the present crisis of Tocklai Tea Research Institute, which is on the verge of closure. But many of us do not know the true facts about its glorious past and the reasons behind its present crisis.
Tocklal Tea Research Institute (earlier Tocklai Experimental Station) was established in 1911 as a Scientific Department of Indian Tea Association for scientific research on tea and its agricultural practices. The initial cost of establishment of Tocklai Tea Research Institute was borne by the pre-independence Government of Assam, the Government of Bengal and the Indian Tea Association. It is the oldest and largest tea research institute in the world, hugely contributing to the growth of tea industry in India and the world as well, through its pioneered scientific research and development. In India, the total turnover of tea industry is approximately Rs 30,000 crore. This apart, 1.2 million people are involved directly in tea industry and of them 51 per cent are woman. Besides this, 10 million people are involved indirectly for their livelihood in this industry. Out of the total tea production of 1233.41 million kg in India, Assam alone produces 52 per cent – 33 per cent comes from 1.5 lakh small tea growers. Tea Industry in India is the only industry that retained its leader in the last 185 years, contributed Indian economy enormously with foreign exchange earnings, employment generation and development of rural economy in India.
After Independence, as per recommendation of Tea Committee in 1950, the Government of India recommended to form a non-profit registered society to ease out government funding on tea research. Accordingly, the Tea Research Association was formed and registered it under the Societies Registration Act, which took over the magement of Tocklai Tea Research Institute and its sub-centres from January 1, 1964. The Tea Research Association was functioning under the guidance, scientific evaluation and 100 per cent funding of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (C.S.l.R.) from 1964 to 1990. Since its inception in 1911 till 1990 was the golden period for Tocklai Tea Research Institute with adequate funding and scientific monitoring, as a result the best scientists across the country and abroad joined Tocklai, contributed for tea research. The decline started from 1991 when the Tea Research Association was separated from the C.S.l.R. to bring it under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry with fincial assistance up to 80 per cent through Tea Board under plan mode. Tea Board of India itself is famous for non-deliveries similar to other commodity boards, have no adequate scientific mechanism like C.S.LR. Non-remittance of committed funds on time for tea research, lack of ability for planning, scientific monitoring and apathy towards Tocklai Tea Research Institute had pushed it into a state of complete standstill. Example, the Tea Board is yet to release a committed amount of Rs. 30 crore under @ 31 per cent grant to Tocklai since April 2012 under 12th Plan. Tocklai Tea Research Institute is now running with a liability of Rs. 40 crore towards its employees, ex-employees, suppliers, even employees statutory dues like PF, Income Tax etc., are not paid for the last four years.
Besides the apathy of the Tea Board, mismagement of top TRA executives is also a reason of serious concern. They are not concerned that employees are not paid full salary; statutory dues like PF, income tax, LIC have not been paid for the employees of the Assam region only for the last 2-3 years, whereas such payments are made regularly for employees of the West Bengal region. Retired employees are not paid their dues, payments are not made to laboratory supplies, infrastructure is not maintained properly. This led the scientists and employees feel unsecured on the fate of the institute. On the contrary, there are records of misappropriation funds. Medical and LTC facilities are extended to others flouting rules, persons with dubious qualifications are appointed in higher scientific posts, frequent foreign trips with family members etc., add to wasteful expenditure leading to diversion of government funds. The Government of India is funding in five specific heads — salary, PF, medical, gratuity and training of employees – and hence government rules and regulations are mandatory for the institute. Top executives are flouting all such rules for their persol interests with nepotism. Who will bell the cat?
The Tea Research Association is following C.S.I.R. rules and regulations for pay scales and other service matters of employees as per the signed agreement, dated 27th May, 1966. In 1998, the Tea Research Association introduced Service Rules as per the agreement with its employees to follow C.S.I.R. rules and regulations after separating it from the C.S.I.R. All Central Pay Commissions, including 6 CPC, were implemented in Tea Research Association. It is a recognized organization under the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (D.S.l.R.), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. The Tea Research Association is declared as a public authority by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry as defined under the Right to Information Act 2005. It is also recognized as ‘Scientific Research Association’ under Section 35.1 (ii) of Income Tax Act, 1961 for exemption of Income Tax.
Since its establishment in 1911, over Rs 15,000 crore government money was invested for infrastructure development, creation of research facilities, salaries of employees, various funded projects etc. In 2007, a Rs 20-crore special Central Government aid was received for centery infrastructure development. Tocklai Tea Research Institute is the third oldest research institute in India to have completed 105 years dedicated service to the tion. The other two research institutes - Indian Forest Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science – have already been already declared as Institute of tiol Importance, receiving full patroge of the Central Government.
This writer strongly urges the Central Government to take over the ailing Tocklai Tea Research Institute under the Department of Science & Technology or the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) with full government support and monitoring. With the present infrastructure, scientific manpower and research facilities, the Tocklai Tea Research Institute can be developed as an Intertiol Institute of Tea Research.