GUWAHATI: The office-bearers of various associations of small tea growers met Industries and Commerce Minister Bimal Borah and apprised him of their problems regarding green leave prices. The minister assured the small tea growers of solving their problems soon.
The 'lackadaisical' attitude of a section of Deputy Commissioners (DCs) has left small tea growers (STGs) with no option but to sell their green tea leaves at low prices.
It is the peak of the tea season when STGs sell their green leaves to bought tea factories (BTFs) and big tea gardens. Many DCs have not yet fixed the district-wise minimum support price (MSP) for green tea leaves. As a result, BTFs are fixing prices according to their whims and fancies, and STGs find themselves at the receiving end. They are selling their produce at low rates.
As per the industry ministry's guidelines, the price of green tea leaves is fixed every year district-wise by a committee which is headed by the DC of the respective district. The DC calls a meeting of all stakeholders and then fixes the MSP. According to sources, till now the MSP has been fixed by the committees of Golaghat, Jorhat and Charaideo districts only. In other districts, the MSP has not been fixed as yet and hence, BTFs and big tea gardens in these districts are buying green tea leaves from STGs at as low a price as Rs 14-Rs 15 per kg. Such low prices do not even cover the cost of production of STGs, let alone fetch them profit.
Assam has around 1.5 lakh STGs, and around 15 lakh indigenous youths are directly or indirectly engaged in green leaf production. Small tea growers contribute nearly 50 per cent of the State's total green leaf production. But despite this, every year during the peak tea season, STGs have to face a harrowing time because the MSP is not fixed.
The All Assam Small Tea Growers' Association has made repeated pleas to the Union Industry Ministry and the State Industries Department to fix a minimum rate of Rs 30 per kg for green tea leaves but to no avail. Such is the plight of STGs when MSP is not fixed that many distressed small tea growers destroy their produce instead of selling them at throwaway prices.
A source in the tea growers' association said, "Every year, our (small tea growers) cost of production increases but we have to sell our tea leaves at a rate which does not even cover our production cost. The DCs take time in fixing the MSP. If they fix the minimum rate in May, it will be a big step towards providing succour to STGs.
"Recently, the MSP in districts like Golaghat, Jorhat and Charaideo was fixed at Rs 22 per kg, Rs 25 per kg and Rs 27 per kg respectively. Small tea growers who sell their produce at these rates can heave a sigh of relief as it will more or less cover their production costs. But what about the tea growers in the other districts? While in Biswanath Chariali, green tea leaves are being sold at Rs 17 per kg, on the north bank, BTFs are buying green tea leaves at Rs 13-Rs 14 per kg!
A small tea grower of the Tinsukia district, Rajen Medhi said, "In the absence of MSP, the Bought Leaf Factories buy green leaves at throwaway prices. When there is an increase in the supply of green leaves, they lower the prices. They are buying green leaves from the Arunachali growers at low prices. It is our earnest appeal to the government to instruct the DCs to fix the MSP for green leaves within the month of May every year. Otherwise, if small tea growers are forced to sell their produce at low rates every year, it will be a huge setback for the 15 lakh indigenous youths who are earning their livelihood from this sector."
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