DIBRUGARH, Aug 24: In a resounding display of their demands, the Dibrugarh unit of the All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association (AASTGA) organised a sit-in protest at Chowkidinghee in Dibrugarh on Thursday. The protest aimed to highlight the pressing issues faced by the association’s members.
Carrying banners and placards emblazoned with their concerns, the members of AASTGA raised their collective voice against what they perceive as government and Tea Board negligence that has left them disadvantaged.
Central to their demands, the association fervently appealed to the government to take steps towards enacting legislation that would ban the import of tea leaves into the state.
Rubul Hatibaruah, president of AASTGA in Dibrugarh district, articulated, “Our plea to the state government is to establish a legal framework that unequivocally forbids the influx of imported tea leaves into Assam. The presence of these imported leaves has significantly driven down the value of tea produced by the small growers of Assam. The continuous infiltration of green tea leaves from other states has engendered a critical challenge for our state’s small tea growers.”
He further disclosed, “Presently, the small tea growers in Assam grapple with inadequate compensation of Rs 14 to 22 per kilogram for their green tea leaves. This starkly contrasts with the variable minimum benchmark price (MBP) for green tea leaves, which fluctuates between Rs 34 and Rs 38 per kilogram. Our proposition is that the factories purchasing these tea leaves must adhere to the minimum benchmark price and offer higher rates for superior quality green tea leaves.”
Expanding on the sentiment, Hatibaruah remarked, “We take immense pride in Assam’s rich 200-year history in the tea industry, with the small tea growers playing an integral role. We’ve consistently advocated for a minimum price for green tea leaves, yet our pleas have fallen on deaf ears within the state government and the Tea Board of India.”
Presently, Assam is home to approximately 1.22 lakh registered small tea growers, constituting 52% of the state’s total tea production. Of these, about 80,000 are affiliated with AASTGA.
The association underscored that despite their incorporation into the Industry department, they have been deprived of governmental subsidies and incentives.
Birinchi Borah, secretary of AASTGA in the Dibrugarh district, raised pertinent concerns, stating, “During Sarbananda Sonowal’s tenure as chief minister, assurances were made regarding land pattas for Assam’s small tea growers. However, these assurances remain unfulfilled. Furthermore, the state government has been levying a 25 paise cess on green tea leaves collected from small tea growers. Shockingly, recent findings reveal that this has contributed a substantial Rs 190 crore to the government’s coffers. We firmly request that 70% of this sum be reinvested in the small tea growers, aiding them in establishing their own leaf tea factories.”
Concurrently, the AASTGA submitted a memorandum to the state chief minister through the district commissioner, outlining their pressing concerns and demands.
Our Jorhat correspondent adds: In response to the statewide call issued by the Central Committee of the All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association (AASTGA), members of the Jorhat district committee held a two-hour sit-in protest on Thursday. The protest took place in front of the Jorhat District Commissioner’s office complex to advocate for their 12-point charter of demands.
Protesters, carrying placards and displaying banners, raised their voices demanding the fulfillment of their outlined requests. Their key focus was securing fair prices for green tea leaves, especially considering the significant decline in prices observed recently.
Expressing their concerns, they highlighted that the cost of green tea leaves had fallen considerably below the production cost, which was Rs 24 per kilogram. The demonstrators pointed out that in Tinsukia district, the price had plummeted to Rs 14 per kilogram, while other districts similarly saw prices below Rs 20 per kilogram.
The protesters emphasised that such price drops were causing substantial losses to small tea growers. Among their demands was the allocation of Rs 200 crore annually in the state government’s budget to facilitate the development of small tea growers. They also called for the provision of funds by either the Tea Board or the state government to enable small growers to establish mini tea factories. Despite having obtained licenses to establish these factories from the Tea Board, financial constraints had hindered their implementation.
The demonstrators criticised both the Tea Board and the Assam government for allegedly neglecting the legitimate interests of small growers. These growers contribute significantly to the rural economy of the state, accounting for 52 percent of Assam’s total tea production.
It’s worth noting that the persistent decline in green tea leaf prices over the past two decades has posed a substantial challenge for small growers, leading to protests and, at times, the symbolic act of dumping green leaves on the streets.