In a letter to Arunita Phukan Yadav, Executive Director, Tea Board India NE Zonal Office, Bidyananda Barkakoty, Adviser, NETA stated, “With reference to the subject mentioned above, we have written to the Tea Board several times in the past to carry out a study through a reputed third party and accordingly rectify the PSF, MBP and Minimum Acceptable Quality (MAQ) of Green Leaf. Unless we rectify the above, the misunderstanding between tea growers and tea manufacturers will crop up from time to time.
According to the Tea Board, there is PSF (which fixes the price of green leaf on annual basis and based on price realisation of individual factory as per Tea Board Form-E monthly return) and there is MBP (which fixes the price of green leaf on monthly basis district-wise and that too based on previous months sale of GTAC). Green leaf price cannot be fixed if we have both PSF and MBP as per prevailing formula.
NETA added, “In the practical field, green leaf price is fixed on demand and supply. There is huge competition for green leaf and therefore nowadays it is not possible to suppress the green leaf price. The price of green leaf price is bound to go up if the price of made tea increases. Above all, in case there is a written agreement between a grower and manufacturer then Tea Board or the District Administration should not intervene”.
The body added that if Tea Board wants to fix the minimum price of the green leaf then it should be linked to a minimum acceptable quality of green leaf as well as notifying a minimum wage for the STG sector which the State Govt can do. Also, there is one more aspect – if the minimum price of raw material (green leaf) is fixed then a minimum floor price (MFP) of the finished product (made tea) may also be fixed. Also, we should not get confused about MFP with MSP – both are different; MSP is applicable only if Government procures.
NETA observed MBP is neither helping the growers nor the manufacturers; rather it is creating confusion. Practically no one is following MBP; presently green leaf price is fixed on demand & supply. Though we feel that MBP ensures growers get a minimum price but at the same time if Price Sharing Formula is implemented effectively on annual basis then MBP is irrelevant. The Circular from Tea Board (No. Jor/TMC/Monitoring/2021/901 dated 06/08/13) is not acceptable to us because there is no concept of 3 leaves and a bud in Assam Tea. Please find attached the definition of FINE LEAF in different publications of TOCKLAI. In Assam, Fine means 1+Bud, 2+Bud, Single Banjhi while doing “Ballometric Count”. Ballometric Count is a time-tested method to count fine leaf percentage of green leaf. Let us understand the fact that there is huge shortage of workers in all sizes of plantations. Ultimately we will have to introduce field mechanisation. Therefore, In our opinion the Minimum Acceptable Fine Leaf Count (as per Ballometric Count) should be 40% to start with and move upwards to 50%.
NETA argued that the Director, Tea Research Association (TRA) has already recommended 50% as acceptable fine leaf count in its letter to the Tea Board (No. DIR/OI 0154/038 dated 6th March 2017). Taking 40% as MAQ, at a later stage we can go for “Graded Incentive” of Payment of Price for Green Leaf. Graded incentive means every 2% increase in fine percentage there should be some incentive. This will significantly improve the quality of tea as well as Growers will get encouraged to go for better plucking. The campaign which NETA started in 2019 “Say NO to Kasi (Sickles) for tea harvesting” needs to vigorously done by the Tea Board and Directorate of Tea, Government of Assam.
Assam Industries and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary asked Deputy commissioners to stop transportation of tea leaves beyond 8 pm in their respective districts to maintain the temperature standard of tea leaves.
Patowary held a video conference with the deputy commissioners of the tea-growing districts to discuss in detail all the issues and challenges of the small tea growers pertaining to minimum price and quality.
Patowary said, “Tea is our heritage and pride. We need to sustain this industry which is passing through a crisis situation. The quality of tea has to be maintained. Only quality tea will ensure survival of Assam tea in the global market and help regain its past glory.”