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'15% vacant land in tea gardens can be used for other purposes'

Kolkata: The state Cabinet on Thursday decided to allow alternative use of 15 per cent of the total vacant land in tea gardens of North Bengal, which may go up to 150 acres. Out of the 15 per cent of the total vacant land in tea gardens, around 40 per cent could be used for the development of real estate while the remaining 60 per cent land area would be developed mostly for tea tourism.

The government's decision to allow the alternative use of unused tea garden could eventually help the ailing tea industry, feel tea estate owners in the state. The state government has given a go-ahead to tea tourism, which in turn will revive the economy in the area and ensure the security of tea garden workers. The Bengal government has stressed the development of eco-tourism in the region.

A comprehensive policy — Tea Tourism and Allied Business Policy 2019 — is being chalked out and a committee has been formed with Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha at the top for smooth implementation of the policy. Representatives from various departments such as industry, land and land reforms, refugees and rehabilitation, tourism, environment and tea board will be inducted into the committee.

Tea Tourism and Allied Business Policy 2019 will also consider various aspects to revive tea plantations in North Bengal. Tea garden owners have been pitching for alternative usage of more than 10 per cent of the vacant land in the tea gardens. The tea industry had been awaiting the nod of the Bengal government so that tea garden owners can venture into various business activities to boost the economy. The state government has finally agreed to their proposal and decided to allow the owners to utilise the land that had been lying vacant at various tea gardens. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier assured that her government would consider tea tourism to benefit the plantations in the state.

After Thursday's Cabinet meeting, state Parliamentary Affairs minister Partha Chatterjee told reporters that the new policy would bring an economic revival in the tea gardens of North Bengal and the 15 per cent of the total vacant land would be used for various purposes without floating tea plantation rules. The decision taken by the Bengal government will contribute to the overall development of the area. One of the main objectives behind the decision is to ensure eco-tourism and proper utilisation of the vacant land. The move will also help to create jobs in the region.

According to a source, there are around 377 tea estates in North Bengal with 2.64 lakh workers. Of this, 87 tea estates are in Darjeeling, 188 in Jalpaiguri and 102 in Terai. The total tea production of tea estates is about 330 million kg per year.

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