Full cup:The tea industry is hoping that several social welfare schemes could percolate down to its employees.
There is some scope for the tea industry to cheer through the many social sector schemes announced in the Union Budget, according to officials.
This despite the fact there were no industry-specific announcements in the Budget and its pleas on various issues had gone unheeded, they added.
There is also a hope of benefits accruing through the lowering of corporate tax rates for MSMEs with a turnover of up to Rs. 250 crore, industry officials said.
The organised tea industry in India feels burdened by the social costs that it has to bear through legal frameworks like the Plantation Labour Act, which mandates it to provide the plantation workers facilities towards medical care, housing, subsidised rations and water supply. Industry pegs this to be at about 10% of its production cost.
It is now having some cause for cheer in the National Health Protection Scheme announced in the Budget. The scheme envisages providing a health insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakh per ‘poor’ family. This would include secondary and tertiary health care. The scheme is expected to benefit 50 crore people.
“The sheer size of the scheme lends hope that the tea garden workers would be included within the scheme, thereby extending reasonable health care for a large sector of the tea garden population ‘’ said a senior official at Tea Association of India.
Similarly, the extension of the Swachh Bharat campaign to construct two crore toilets, establishment of Eklavya schools for scheduled tribes population could include a sizeable number of scheduled tribe populations of the tea Industry .
However on AMRUT scheme, the tea industry felt that a similar initiative on augmenting water supply in rural sector would have benefited the tea gardens, which are predominantly located in rural areas and exist in difficult terrain.
“It remains to be seen whether at least some of these welfare measures percolate down to the tea industry or stop at the gate of tea estates”, said a senior industry executive said on condition of anonymity. This was echoed by an official of the apex industry body, the Indian Tea Association.
Sources at the Tea Board were, however, of the view that often industry made it difficult for inclusion of its workers in government schemes by failing to create an enabling atmosphere for dovetailing government schemes with its own.
As for the West Bengal Budget, the industry is already relieved over the exemption granted in respect of agricultural income tax .
“The tea industry in the State has been in a dire state for past many years, .. I propose to fully exempt tea gardens from payment of agricultural income tax till 2019-20,” State Finance Minister Amit Mitra said in his Budget speech. The education cess and the rural employment cess levied on green tea leaves had also been given full exemption.
Industry said this exemption was being given by the State Government on a year-to-year basis for the last few years. The industry pays a total of 12 paise per kg of tea on these two counts.
Although there is no industry-specific announcement, small tea growers, who were more like farmers, could avail the scheme for fisheries, horticulture or could even plant bamboo for alternative source of income, said Bijoy Chakravarty, president, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations. The government’s thrust on farm sector could be utilised, he said. The tea industry had sought support for tackling climate change besides seeking customs duty relief.
Strangely, neither the State government nor the Centre made any mention of the Darjeeling tea industry in their annual financial statements although the industry suffered major losses during last year’s separatist agitation.