The present crisis of Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat has raised many questions. The failure of the Tea Board of India in timely release of research funds, ineffective plans and policies, drastic reduction of R & D fund by the Government of India and mismagement and lack of attention of the planters’ body of Tea Research Association, have systematically ruined the Tocklai Tea Research Institute. Tocklai Experimental Station (later remed as Tocklai Tea Research Institute) was established in 1911 by Indian Tea Association for scientific research on tea. It is the world’s oldest and largest research institute of such a kind which has immensely contributed to the growth of the tea industry in India through its pioneer scientific research and development. Tea Research Association (TRA), a non-profit registered society, was formed as per advice of the Government of India to ease government funding into tea research. TRA took over the magement of Tocklai Tea Research Institute and sub-centres from 1964. Then, TRA was functioning under the guidance, scientific evaluation andfunding of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (C.S.I.R.) until 1990. That was the glorious period with adequate funding and scientific monitoring with best scientists across the country and abroad contributing to tea research and development. No one can deny that tea industry in India has retained its leadership in last 185 years due to technological innovations at Tocklai.
Unfortutely, decline started from the year 1990 when Tea Research Association was separated from C.S.I.R. to bring it under the Ministry of Commerce & Industry with fincial assistance up to 80 per cent through Tea Board of India under plan mode. Non-remittance of committed research funds on time, lack of ability for planning, scientific monitoring and apathy towards Tocklai Tea Research Institute had pushed it into a state of complete standstill. The amount of Rs 9 crore collected from tea cess meant for tea research has been utilized by Tea Board for infrastructure development at Siliguri. Since April 2012, Tea Board of India has not released committed funds of Rs.35 crore to Tocklai under 12th Plan. The Tea Research Directorate of Tea Board, Kolkata is not supporting the Tocklai Tea Research Institute, nor are they supporting the UPASI Tea Research Institute of South India. TRA is following C.S.I.R. Rules and Regulations for pay scale and other service matters of employees working at Tocklai and outstations. Now, Tocklai Tea research Institute is now running with severe fincial crisis and uble to release its dues to employees, former employees, suppliers, and statutory dues like PF, Income Tax, LIC are not paid for last several months.
Besides, apathy of Tea Board, there is no attention of planters’ body of Tea Research Association towards Tocklai. There are records of misappropriation funds, mismagement of top TRA executives; persons with dubious qualifications appointed in higher posts, and frequent foreign trips with family members have contributed wasteful expenditure and diversion of government funds. No rules are followed by few top executives, example - leave encashment was paid to one employee prior to 5 years of his retirement, two Deputy Directors were promoted to highest scale of GP Rs 10,000 within six months of their appointment, PF of employees in West Bengal part are deposited regularly (including PF of Director and Secretary) but the part of employees in Assam are unpaid, diversion of Rs60 lakh from project accounts hampered project research works. The secretary sitting in Kolkata is enjoying facilities without any accountability; he is grabbing all powers, making the position of Director inferior. He is a political appointee, not qualified to be appointed to that post (an arts graduate appointed in highest scientific grade). His lack of knowledge, proficiency has put the situation out of control in TRA and increased resentment among employees. More may come out with proper enquiry.
The present fund crisis is also the result of lack of proper policy decision for tea research by the Government of India. All other commodity boards have their own research institutes, except tea. Tea, the leading export earner, should have a tiol Institute of Tea Research with full government patroge. Tea Board of India is running a small research institute med Darjeeling Tea Research & Development Centre (DTR&DC) at Kurseong, which is also not properly maged. Tea Board of India is totally dependent on Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat and UPASI Tea Research Institute, Valparai for development of R & D in tea sector. A strong policy decision on tea research and Tocklai is the need of the hour.
The success model of Sri Lankan Tea Research Institute may be followed by Government of India for sustaibility of all tea research institutes as well as tea industry in India. A similar model was submitted to the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India in 2009 by the then Chairman of the Tea Board of India,Basudev Banerjee, suggesting full autonomy and 100 per cent direct funding to Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat with the status of Institute of tiol Importance. The said proposal was not materialised due to strong lobby politics by tea planters and few top TRA executives. Those tea planters did not realize that they are uble to bear the increasing budget with 100 per cent or 200 per cent increase of their membership subscriptions. Tocklai Tea Research Institute will always support the tea industry in India as it did for last 105 years. They should realize that scientists cannot concentrate on research activities if they are worried for their next month salary and unpaid statutory dues. Importantly, tea planters are critical towards Tocklai scientists during their service tenure. But those scientists are immediately offered top advisory positions on their retirement.
We strongly support the move of shifting the Tea Board head office from Kolkata to Guwahati with the single reason that Assam alone produce 52 per cent of total tea produced in India. It is also important to note that Tocklai Tea Research Institute is providing technological support to the whole North Indian tea producing areas, which accounts 75per cent of total Indian Tea Production. Therefore, Tea Research Directorate should also relocate to Tocklai, Jorhat.
The other two ailing tea research institutes, DTR&DC, Kurseong and UPASI,Valparai should be brought under the same Tea Research Directorate to make it an Autonomous Tea Research Institute of tiol importance under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. Altertively, tea should be brought under Agriculture Ministry since it is an agricultural product and I.C.A.R. may be given to oversee tea research in India. We expect that the Government of India and Government of Assam should immediately intervene to save the Tocklai Tea Research Institute by bringing it out from the crisis which has engulfed it.