KOLKATA: The Darjeeling tea industry on Saturday said it has almost lost its first flush production in the wake of the ongoing lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a financial crunch for garden owners as the premium variety contributes 40 per cent of the annual revenue of the planters.
The first flush accounts for 20 per cent of the 8 million kg annual production in the hills, Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) chairman Binod Mohan said.
"The condition is very bad. The first flush is almost wiped out," he told PTI.
DTA's former chairman Ashok Lohia said the entire first flush crop is exportable and there will be an adverse impact on the annual revenue due to the production loss of this premium variety.
"We want the government to allow production to start, since this is primarily an agricultural activity," Lohia, chairman of Chamong Tea, said.
The first flush season starts from March and continues till first week of May.
Despite the financial crisis in the sector, some of the gardens are making payments to the workers as per the government's directive, Mohan said.
Some of the Darjeeling tea garden owners whose financial conditions are not good, have been facing difficulties to meet wage payment obligations, he said.
"We have requested the West Bengal government to reduce their burdens to some extent," Mohan said. There are nearly 87 gardens in the hills.
Darjeeling chapter of the Indian Tea Association (DITA) secretary M Chettri said that it has 22 members and five of them have paid wages to the workers during the lockdown period even though production came to a halt.
The gardens, which made payments to their workers, are Glenburn, Makaibari, Ambiok, Teendharia and Jangpara, he said.
"The owners of the gardens, who are yet to pay wages to the labourers, are in discussion with the unions, and hopefully, a decision will be taken by Saturday," Chettri said.
The Darjeeling tea workers are paid Rs 176 on a daily basis in addition to ration and food.
Rudra Chatterjee, director of Luxmi Tea, which owns the famous Makaibari brand, said, "Wages of our workers have been paid during to the lockdown period including their rations."
He said awareness programmes including hygiene practices are being held in the workers' colonies and additional facilities such as isolation and quarantine centres have been created in the estates.
Lohia said wages to the labourers have already been paid and an awareness exercise is on to educate the workers' community to prevent the coronavirus outbreak.
"Those who had left the gardens came back and they have been put under self-quarantine," he added.