Tea growers in Assam have started feeling the pinch of the ongoing protests with partial disruption in production at many gardens and sale of the crop at the Guwahati auction centre being hampered, sources from the industry said on Saturday (December 14).
Transportation of the produce has also been affected due to the ongoing stir, they said. “Though winter months are not the peak season, plucking and manufacturing operations in many gardens across the state have been affected amid widespread protest,” North Eastern Tea Association adviser Bidyananda Barkakoty said.
Compared to the last few years, the weather condition was favourable during this December and the growers were able to produce relatively better quality tea, but operations at several estates have been adversely affected by the protests, he added.
“During Tuesday’s shutdown, gardens were mostly closed. Plucking activities took place on Friday but not on a full-fledged scale as many workers could not come due to lack of transport,” All Assam Small Tea Growers Association general secretary Karuna Mahanta said.
The legislation has put the state on the boil as people fear that it may exacerbate the problem of illegal immigration.
Violent protests broke out in the state earlier this week with agitators engaging in pitched battles with the police, forcing the administration to impose curfew in several places.
Planters also said that the Tea Board has extended the plucking time till December 19 on account of shortage and non-availability of workers. The board had earlier asked them to shut plucking and manufacturing operations by mid-December to prevent the production of inferior quality tea, according to growers.
Suspension of internet services has also affected their business. “Due to the internet suspension and violent protests, several tea growers are apprehending that they may face difficulties to pay wages to workers as banking services might be affected. Usually, payments to labourers are made either on Friday or Saturday,” Barkakoty said.
Sales of tea at the Guwahati auction centre have also been disrupted. “Every week, around 40-45 lakh kgs of tea is sold. But, only 15 lakh kg has been sold so far this week,” Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers Association Secretary Dinesh Bihani said.
Barkakoty said planters are also apprehending that if the ongoing protests continue for a prolonged period, the pruning activities and other agricultural processes which usually happen during the winters might get disrupted.
“Several agricultural processes, including pruning, are done during the winters to ensure the quality of tea for the upcoming season. These are time-bound activities. If the protests continue longer and such cold-weather agricultural activities are affected, the industry will face severe impact next season,” he added.