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The Economic Times - March 22, 2016

West Bengal tea industry demands insurance cover against drought

SILIGURI: Pushed to the brink due to unprecedented low rainfall, Tea Industry in northern West Bengal tea belt is demanding immediate introduction of insurance coverage against drought condition. 

"The weather situation at TeraiBSE -0.75 % region in the west Bank of Teesta river has gone beyond acceptable limit this time," said Mr. K. K. Mintri, Chairman of Terai Indian Planters Association (TIPA). The region hosts around 80 organized gardens with combined annual production volume of around 50 million kg processed tea. Beside this, "There are over 25,000 small plantations producing around 70 mkg. With limited loss bearing capacity, they are in even worse situation," said Mr. B. G. Chakroborty, Secretary of Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations (CISTA). 

"Due to over 80% deficient rainfall since October '15 in Terai, we apprehend near 70% downfall in First Flush production. This post winter high quality and high price First Flush crop contributes 35% to our annual gross," said Mr. Mintri. 

Despite few isolated drops of rain, situation in the other high tea yielding region Dooars is also not any better than Terai- informed planters from the region. Terai, Dooars put together contributes over 25% to national yield of around 1200mkg. "Proper insurance coverage against drought for tea only can save us at this stage," said TIPA Vice Chairman Mr. M. Bansal. "Interestingly, weather condition based insurance schemes are there for coffee or rubber, but not for Tea," added Mr. Chakroborty. 

When asked on this earlier, former Director, Indian Tea Board(ITB), Mr. G. Boriah, said, "Discussion was initiated with Agriculture Insurance Company of India Limited to design weather based crop insurance scheme for tea. Meteorology department was also requested to provide long duration weather data for every tea producing regions for that." 

But, "We are yet to find any such scheme at ground level," said Mr. Bansal. When contacted, an ITB official said on condition of anonymity, "A proposal on this has been sent to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry long back. But we are yet to find any visible response on that."