By Bappaditya Paul
Gangtok: One man’s loss is another man’s gain is an old adage that has come true this time around in the tea industry of Darjeeling-Sikkim region!
The political unrest in Darjeeling and Dooars last year had kept the tea gardens closed for nearly four months. This caused huge losses not only to the Darjeeling tea industry but pushed the tea workers to a hand-to-mouth situation.
To ensure two square meals for themselves and their families, a section of the tea workers from Darjeeling-Dooars region migrated to Temi ~ the only tea garden in Sikkim famous for its organic tea. Owned by the Sikkim government, Temi is known for pro-labour policies.
Now, banking on the additional workforce, Temi is eyeing to increase its production at least by 20 metric tons this fiscal year. Interestingly, this at a time when Darjeeling tea industry is staring at a dip in production this season due to absenteeism by workers, The Telegraph reported.
“In 2017-18, we produced about 80 metric tons tea and mopped up revenue of Rs 6-crore. Now that we have some 120 additional workers from Darjeeling-Dooars region in the workforce, we have set a target of taking the production to 100 metric tons this year,” says Mrinalini Shrivastava, the managing director of Temi tea.
Shrivastava, who is an IPS officer by training, says that they were initially skeptical about how long the workers from Bengal will hang around at Temi. Despite this, they constructed a separate cluster lodging facility for them.
“To our delight, almost all the workers returned after the winter break from December-February. One reason for this could be that we pay a daily wage of Rs 300, which much higher than the pay in Bengal tea gardens,” the Temi MD says.
The cash component in the daily wage of a tea worker in Darjeeling is around Rs 150. They get additional benefits such as ration and treatment facility.
Shrivastava also points out that Temi does not make discrimination between the Sikkim workers and those from outside as regards welfare measures.
“The only sentiment of our indigenous workforce is that outsiders must not be accorded the status of a permanent employee. We find no qualms in this as a casual worker at Temi gets wage and benefits similar to the permanent ones.”
Temi tea last year fetched an average price of Rs 800-Rs1,000 a kg at the auction. Its first flush sold up to Rs 4,500 a kg. Meeting the additional production target may fetch it a higher price as the supply will become steady and get expanded to more cities in India.
Temi tea garden is spread over 210 hectares of land in South Sikkim district. Out of this, 177 hectares are under plantation. The distance of the garden is 56 km from Gangtok and 117 km from Siliguri.