Assam govt urges Centre to consider ‘deferring’ 100% auction of dust tea

The Assam government has urged the Centre to consider “deferring” the enforcement of the sale of 100 per cent of dust grades tea through public auction, stating that its implementation is likely to create significant challenges, inevitably impacting the livelihood of tea growers in the State.

On February 23, in a gazette notification, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said one hundred per cent of dust grades tea manufactured from North Indian tea gardens in a calendar year is to be sold through public tea auctions with effect from April 1, 2024. However, this mandate will not apply to mini tea factories.

In a letter to Sunil Barthwal, Secretary, Department of Commerce, Ravi Kota, Chief Secretary, Assam, said, “As the tea industry in Assam comprises a large number of small tea growers and bought-leaf tea manufacturers, the implementation of this notification is likely to create significant challenges, inevitably impacting the livelihood of tea growers and other stakeholders. We, therefore, request your kind attention to consider deferring the enforcement of this notification for a reasonable period.”

Kota urged Barthwal to issue appropriate orders on priority, keeping in mind the best interests of the tea industry in Assam and the welfare of small tea growers and associated stakeholders.

Producers’ objections

Notably, Assam is the country’s largest tea producing State. There are about 10 lakh workers in direct employment in the tea industry of Assam and over 1.25 lakh small tea growers (land holding below 10.12 hectares). The small tea growers produce around 48 per cent of total green tea leaves produced in the State.

According to the North-Eastern Tea Association (NETA), the basic principle of its objection to the mandated 100 per cent auction of dust tea is since government cannot guarantee price realisation and time taken for sale through auction, it should not intervene and should leave it to the producers to sell their produce in whatever manner they feel comfortable.

“The tea producers have a huge risk and responsibility of paying wages to workers on time and also to small tea growers who sell green leaf to tea factories. Therefore, managing the cash flow is a huge burden on producers. Any disruption or uncertainty in cash flow may invite social unrest,” NETA said.

One of the major reasons for many producers not routing their produce through public auctioning is because this is a very “inefficient mode” of sale and it is time consuming and expensive, said Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser of NETA.

“Because of the limited number of buyers in the public auctioning system, many producers do not get fair prices for their produce,” Barkakoty said.

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