Tea industry rues subsidy condition
The Tea Board of India’s proposal to route orthodox teas through auctions to make producers eligible for a subsidy hike has met with stiff opposition from the tea industry.
“The subsidy is paid to produce more orthodox teas for export and imposition of such a condition will hamper export to overseas buyers,” Indian Tea Association chairman C.S. Bedi told The Telegraph.
The proposed hike is from Rs 3 to 5 per kg. This was recommended by consultancy firm KPMG.
The furore comes in the wake of the Tea Board decision, taken during its 217th meeting at Coonoor, to introduce a slew of changes in its orthodox tea subsidy scheme, following a rap by the CAG in its last audit report on the board about the scheme being generic and not performance-oriented.
“The eligibility conditions were deficient to the effect that subsidy was paid on the quantity of production without making it mandatory to increase a minimal percentage of the production of orthodox tea,” the CAG report had said.
The report had also stated that an independent professional agency entrusted with the evaluation of the scheme had opined that because of the generic nature of the subsidy scheme across all regions and for all tea companies producing orthodox tea, irrespective of volume and quality of tea produced, the exact impact of the scheme could not be evaluated.
KPMG, the consultancy firm engaged by the board to study its schemes ahead of the Twelfth Plan period, had also suggested that a garden should show at least a five per cent hike in its production during the past five years to become eligible for subsidy.
The board, however, increased the benchmark to a 15 per cent increase in production and proposed to pay subsidy only for the volume of tea being sold through auctions, inviting sharp opposition from the industry.
To achieve this objective, the board said gardens would not receive subsidy for teas sold privately through registered brokers or directly to merchant exporters. “Even those factories manufacturing 100 per cent orthodox teas will have to route their teas through public auction in order to claim the subsidy,” the board said.
Orthodox tea producers sell their teas privately and get handsome returns. They have also developed good markets in the West over the years.
Bedi said orthodox e-auction was already facing problems and to put more tea into the auctions would be damaging, and added that he was sure the government would consider the industry viewpoint.
The industry has been calling for continuation of the subsidy scheme in the Twelfth Plan period in order to encourage gardens to produce larger quantities of orthodox tea.
Reacting to the auction condition, an official of a company producing orthodox tea said, “It would not be of any benefit to us, as middleman will make the money.”
The official said production of orthodox tea itself was an expensive affair and required deft handling, which helped them get niche customers in the country and abroad.
The markets for Indian orthodox tea are West Asia, the UK, Germany, Japan and former Soviet Union countries.
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is initiating measures to ensure that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) complies with forest norms while upgrading the NH 54E that cuts through the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong elephant corridor.
NBWL chairperson Jayanthi Natarajan gave this assurance last month at a meeting of the standing committee, the minutes of which were made public yesterday.
The NHAI is constructing a four-lane expressway through Lumding reserve forest that will cut through a crucial migratory corridor for elephants, gibbons and gaur and also a critical tiger landscape.
Natarajan had suggested that the secretary, ministry of environment and forests, write to Assam chief secretary on this issue and request the state government to check whether the stipulations of forest clearance with respect to NH 54E were being complied with in letter and spirit. In case of non-compliance, she asked him to initiate action against the NHAI.
Natarajan also suggested initiation of a dialogue with the highway authority and also volunteered to write to the Union road, transport and highways minister, highlighting the issues raised by the members and asking the minister to ensure NHAI’s compliance with the forest clearance stipulations.
The NHAI was permitted to cut down over 100 hectares of forest for expanding NH 54E within the ambit of the preconditions laid down by the forest advisory committee.
The issue was raised by a member of the wildlife board, Prerna Bindra, who said according to the preconditions, labour camps and high-powered lights were barred in the forest and a special underpass was to be built to allow elephants to cross the highway with minimal disturbance.
She said one could understand the need for building and expanding roads and highways network, but NHAI had very low credibility because of repeated violations.
“It would serve both conservation and development imperatives if the NHAI executed its projects with due diligence by following all stipulated conditions in a bid to restore faith in its credibility, within the NBWL and the conservation community in general, and presented itself as a model that had regard for critical ecological concerns,” she said.
WWF India had suggested a series of measures to the NHAI to ensure that wildlife in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, which bisects Lumding reserve forest, is not drastically affected by the development of NH 54E, which is being upgraded to a four-lane highway.
Some of the measures are provision for more elephant passages at suitable locations and landscaping of the area to ensure that there is no negative impact on the wildlife.
It also pointed out that construction period of the passage in the area should be so selected that the elephants are away on seasonal migration. This will reduce any disturbance to the elephants because of construction activities and thus reduce chances of conflict.
Dr Shankar Raman, another board member, said in specific cases like NH 54E, experienced wildlife scientists working in Assam could be requested to explain, advise and work with the NHAI and others involved in road construction work about the specific mitigation measures required for wildlife and also help monitor the progress and process of implementation thereof.
Split views on Demwe
A two-member committee, studying the impact of the 1,750MW Demwe lower hydroelectric project located close to Parashuram Kund, a heritage site in Arunachal Pradesh, has giving divergent views, making it difficult for the Centre to come to a decision.
In 2010, former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposing granting of forest clearance to the project, as it would have a serious downstream impact till Dibrugarh in Assam. The project has already got environment clearance.
In October last year, the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) constituted a two-member team, comprising Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society, and Pratap Singh, chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Arunachal Pradesh, to assess the project’s possible impact downstream and on wildlife in the project area.
The committee submitted its report on December 12 and it was discussed on December 13. The minutes of the meeting were made public today.
Rahmani’s report states that the proposed dam would have an adverse impact on two important wildlife habitats: the chapories of Lohit river and the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Both are designated important bird areas and support the populations of some critically endangered bird species, including the Bengal florican, which is a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act with a surviving population of less than 500.
Rahmani’s report has found support among many in the board.
Environmentalist Prerna Bindra, a member of the board, pointed out that 147 hydropower projects were coming up in Arunachal Pradesh, nine of which would be built in the Lohit basin and seven on the river itself. A cumulative impact assessment study is, therefore, imperative. She said the project’s reservoir would be just 50 metres from Kamlang sanctuary. “The mandate of the wildlife board was to consider the impact on wildlife and wildlife habitats, and from that point of view, this project cannot be allowed, as the impacts are very grave,” she said.
Altogether 43,000 trees will be felled for the project, whose submergence area would be 1,131.09 hectares, including 969.44 hectares of forestland. The height of the dam would be 124.8 metres above the riverbed.
Rajib Rudra Tariang, assistant professor of department of zoology, Digboi College, said the dam height needed to be lowered to minimise the impact on wildlife. “The consequences are too large to be ignored,” he told this correspondent.
Kishore Rithe of Amrawati-based Satpuda Foundation said one should study the downstream impact of the Subansiri project, which was still under way, from all angles before taking a view on the Demwe project.
Minister Jayanthi Natarajan pointed out in the meeting that the project was important in terms of water resource and should be considered in the larger national interest with due environmental safeguards.
The Arunachal Pradesh forest department has sought clearance for the project, saying people in the state were getting increasingly frustrated at the delay in clearance of development projects on the grounds of environment, forest and wildlife clearance.
Sword over 78 lakh trees for Tipaimukh
Guwahati, Jan. 19: Seventy-eight lakh trees will be chopped as part of the forest clearance process for the 1,500MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project in Manipur, an exercise that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says will be taken up for “national interest”.
The project, which has been in the eye of controversies following opposition from Bangladesh, has received support from the Centre, which has promised not to take any steps that would adversely affect the neighbouring country.
The project near the Manipur-Mizoram border, 500 metres downstream of the confluence of river Barak and the Tuivai in Churachandpur district of Manipur, received environmental clearance in 2008.
Alarmed by the diversion of a very large area of forest land and felling of more than 78 lakh trees, the forest advisory committee, under the ministry of environment and forests, has recommended that a sub-committee, along with domain experts in the field of ecology, wildlife, hydrology and others, visit the project site to make an on-the-spot assessment of impacts.
The committee, which met on January 11-12 in New Delhi, also recommended that the sub-committee may suggest appropriate measures on further reduction in dam height to minimise forest land requirement.
The committee said the forest land proposed for diversion contains 78,16,931 trees and 27,000 bamboo columns.
Principal chief conservator of forests, Manipur, has been quoted in the report as saying “no compensatory measure would help in mitigating the loss caused by felling of such large number of trees as also the diverse impact on the habitat, flora, fauna, bio-diversity and environment, unless additional non-forest areas in affected districts or adjoining districts are taken up for compensatory afforestation”.
The per megawatt requirement of forest land at 16.22 hectares is also substantially high, the committee said.
Manipur had initially submitted a proposal to obtain approval of the Centre under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for diversion of 20,464 hectares of forest land, which was later revised to 25,822.14 hectares.
Later, according to the consideration of recommendations made by the northeastern regional office of the ministry of environment and forests, the area of forest land proposed for diversion was further revised to 22,777.50 hectares.
Mizoram also sent a proposal for diversion of 1551.60 hectares of forest land, which is being processed separately.
The total diversion is 24,329 hectares of forest land, of which 22,777.50 hectares is in Manipur and 1551.60 hectares is in Mizoram.
The project is being executed as a joint venture of the NHPC (69 per cent), Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (26 per cent) and the Manipur government (5 per cent). It was initially proposed to be executed by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited.
The Tipaimukh project is expected to take 87 months for completion and will come up during the 12th Five Year Plan. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs 9,211 crore at September 2008 price level.
Many project proponents, including government departments have been urging the Centre to expedite the process of granting environment and forest clearances as otherwise the projects were getting delayed.
Though the environmental clearance given in 2008 had said downstream impacts of the project in Assam should be studied because of construction of the dam, sources said nothing had been done till now.
The clearance letter had also said since the Tipaimukh project involved large submergence, a comprehensive study of the possible greenhouse emissions from the project should be carried out.
Sources, however, said this also had not been done. “How shall we kill ourselves in an age of climate change...let us count the ways. Instead of investing money in enhancing efficiency and making existing hydroelectric power projects deliver on failed promises, myopic planners in the Prime Minister’s Office and Planning Commission are laying out a silken trap for the Indian people...promising power and delivering a slow death from ecological instability instead,” wildlife expert Bittu Sahgal told The Telegraph.
“This is going to be an ecological disaster. There is great impact in the upstream area and one can very well imagine what may happen downstream, which has still not been studied,” Firoz Ahmed, wildlife conservationist from Assam, said.
“This will be transformed into a desert. This is an exceptionally rich biodiverse area,” R.K. Ranjan Singh, an environmentalist and adviser to the Manipur-based NGO Citizens’ Concern for Dams and Development, said.
“No project in the country, howsoever necessary, should be cleared by any authority if it involves large-scale cutting of trees. Such action is a disaster for the future of a nation and the country requires a strict land use policy urgently,” Valmik Thapar, eminent wildlife conservationist, said.
Livestock disease alert in N-E
Guwahati, Jan. 18: The region that consumes 50 per cent of the country’s pork is staring at an outbreak of classical swine flu and a host of other dreaded livestock diseases in the coming two months, experts have predicted.
The project directorate on animal disease monitoring and surveillance, Bangalore, has warned that four livestock diseases, including haemorrhagic septicaemia, black quarter, foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine fever, will hit the Northeast in February-March.
The directorate, which is under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, uses a unique software under the national animal disease referral expert system which can predict outbreak of diseases in a particular state in the next two months.
“The forecasting is based on retrospective disease data and weather-based disease forecasting models using different techniques,” H. Rahman, project director at the Bangalore centre, told The Telegraph.
Data of the last 25 years has been considered for the current forecast.
The director has predicted that haemorrhagic septicaemia, black quarter, foot-and-mouth disease may occur in Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine flu have been predicted in Assam for February and March and haemorrhagic septicaemia in March.
Rabies has been predicted in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
“Necessary steps are being taken to inform the state governments regarding the availability of such prediction to help them initiate suitable control measures,” he said.
“Forecasting/forewarning of the diseases will not only help in their prevention and control through timely vaccinations but also helps in taking steps to arrest the spread of the disease to other parts of the region,” he added.
“If we can prevent all these diseases, farmers’ income will increase,” Rahman said, adding that the diagnostic facilities in the region are not very satisfactory.
Livestock, especially pig and poultry, is a key livelihood ingredient in the Northeast.
A study conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute in 2007 found that there was an increase in demand of livestock products in the region.
In Nagaland, the demand for pork has increased from 15 to 25 per cent over the past seven years.
It has been estimated that 25 per cent of the pig population in the country is in the Northeast, 80 per cent of indigenous families keep a few pigs (generally two to three) and that the region consumes 50 per cent of the country’s pork, according to Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
“Accurate information about the health status of animal population is critical in the fight against livestock diseases and this forms the basis for initiating disease control strategies through optimal utilisation of meagre funds, veterinary resources and manpower,” Rahman said.
Prediction, however, is only the beginning of the battle.
“A large majority of farmers in Northeast do not get access to good veterinary facilities. If diseases hit the livestock of the farmers, it is a big loss for them,” said Rameshwar Deka, scientific officer at the Northeast office of International Livestock Research Institute in Guwahati.
Award to promote tea growers
Guwahati, Jan. 13: The Tea Board has instituted an award scheme for the first time exclusively small tea growers, bought leaf tea factories and self-help groups of small tea growers in the region to ensure better quality in the sector.
A Tea Board official said the scheme aims at rewarding the best performing small tea growers on the basis of field productivity and quality of leaf harvested, best performing bought leaf tea factories on the quality of made tea, and self-help groups on various parameters of group dynamics.
The small tea growers have been facing a lot of criticism from many quarters regarding the quality of tea produced, forcing the Board to encourage the growers to produce quality tea and provide them with incentives to do so.
For the last three years, the government has put on hold the issue of fresh registration of bought leaf factories as a quality control measure but is now relaxing the norms for factories set up by small growers under the self-help groups or co-operative societies.
These awards are named the Purv-o-Uttar Ati-Uttam Chai Awards. The small tea growers will be given a cash reward of Rs 10, 000 and presented a memento and a citation. The best bought leaf factory will be honoured with a citation, a silver trophy and Rs 20,000. The best performing self-help groups shall be honoured with a citation, a silver trophy and Rs 20,000.
The application form should reach the nearest regional offices of the board or the zonal office in Guwahati on or before March 15.
A survey conducted by the Assam government has put the number of small tea growers at 68,465 in the 117 thousand-acre area, producing 500 million kg of leaf. They contribute 25-26 per cent of the total production in the Northeast and 14-16 per cent of the country’s total production.
Any grower having a tea plantation of upto 10.12 hectares is categorised as a small tea grower. “The idea is to recognise, reward and salute the small tea growers for their efforts, sweat and toil,” the official said.
There have been many good examples and the Board hopes to create many such role models for other small tea growers to emulate.
On the bought leaf tea sector, the board says the sector failed to derive the tangible prices because of its reputation created by the market forces as being producers of low quality tea, despite having installed modern machinery.There are 234 registered bought leaf tea factories in the Northeast, of which 213 are in Assam.
On the self-help groups, the board says there are shining examples like Seuj Jyoti self-help group of Nagaon district, which has entered into an agreement with Matiapahar tea garden in running the factory with quality leaf supplied by their members. There are 111 self-help groups in Assam.
Assam tea sets new record
- A line of Mahaluxmi CTC tea sells at Rs 302 a kg
Guwahati, Jan. 12: Assam tea has broken a record, yet again!
A line of Mahaluxmi CTC tea today sold for Rs 302 a kg, bettering its previous record by Rs 1 per kg within 15 days. The earlier best price was fetched on December 28.
The tea was sold under sale number 2 at 10.30am today at the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre for a Delhi-based buyer. The grade was BP (Broken Pekoe).
“We have consistently been making good tea throughout the year and today’s prices are a reflection of that,” A. Rahman, director of Mohijuli Tea Company, told The Telegraph.
He said Assam tea was known for its quality; if paid a little attention, it would fetch very good prices. “We pay attention right from the time of plucking so that the quality is the best,” he said.
Mahaluxmi garden and another garden at Tezalpatty, both owned by Mohijuli, together produce about 10 lakh kg of black tea annually on a 500-hectare area. Both the gardens are located at Biswanath Chariali in Sonitpur district of Assam.
While some might say this is just for one line of tea, sources say this is an encouraging trend for Assam tea as good prices continuously push up the value of the brand.
With record prices being fetched at the auction centre, buyers might purchase more from here. The Guwahati Auction Centre is the third largest CTC auction centre in the world. Characteristics like rich malty flavour, fuller body, bright colour, briskness and sweet aroma has made Assam tea a hot favourite among tea enthusiasts all over the world. “When the time for second flush (June-July) comes, we might get better prices,” an official of the company said.
A source said the Rs 302 per kg-tea will be sold at around Rs 400 at the retail level.
Manoj Sethia of Maruti Enterprises, who bought the tea for a Delhi-based buyer, said the tea manufacturing process of the garden was very good which ensured good price.
Kamal Chandra Das, vice-president of Paramount Tea Marketing (P) Limited, said although the season for tea had ended, the trend for better tea was continuing. “Good tea will always fetch good prices in whichever season,” he said.
Paramount was the broker for Mahaluxmi tea. Das said this also boded well for electronic auctions as it was fetching good prices and the process was transparent. “There was a lot of opposition earlier to e-auction but with good results, the trend has now found favour,” he said.
Assam has been at the forefront in demanding and ensuring major value-added features in the e-auction programme.
“This is a good trend and more people will buy tea from GTAC now,” Lalit Jalan of Assam Tea Traders, a tea buyer, said.
“The emphasis should be on producing good tea and people will pay for quality tea,” he said.