KOLKATA: Leading industry body Tea Association of India (TAI) on Monday flagged the issue of rising coal costs due to acute shortage which is affecting plantation activity as it is an important input for manufacturing in North Bengal.
TAI said since the North Bengal region does not have access to supplies of natural gas, which is available in the gardens of Upper Assam, this causes the North Bengal gardens to face competitive disadvantages.
Association sources said that the issue of minimum wages in a labour-intensive industry like tea, the cost of production on account of wages is always higher compared to other less labour-intensive industries.
According to estimates, the cost of labour on account of wages is almost 60 per cent, which is much lower than those of other labour-intensive sectors, TAI said.
TAI said that the West Bengal government, employers and the employees have engaged in matters relating to the fixation of minimum wages and through various submissions made by the industry, it had urged the government to study the wage structure of the tea workers and the industry also had to fulfil separate commitments towards the workers in the form of non-cash payment like ration, housing, health and education.
Regarding climate change, TAI also pointed out the industry had been witnessing a sharp drop in rainfall post-October each year which makes the plantations susceptible to pest infestation.
The association said to counter this problem, more irrigation facilities are made available to the tea industry by tapping technological advances.
As the production of tea in North Bengal has grown leaps and bounds, particularly among small tea growers.
This raises the issue of exporting teas of North Bengal.
Preliminary estimates show that only four million kilogrammes of tea is exported from North Bengal and there is a need to increase this figure.
Referring to the welfare schemes of the West Bengal government, TAI said that the programme of providing shelters to the workers under the 'Cha Sundari' scheme is a welcome move.