State Budget only respite for tea industry
Darjeeling: The Union Budget failed to bring cheer to the ailing tea industry. The Bengal Budget, however, has scored with two major waivers for the industry in "dire straits."
"The tea industry in the state has been in dire straits. I propose to fully exempt gardens from agricultural income tax for 2018-19 and 2019-20," stated Bengal Finance minister Amit Mitra on Wednesday, while tabling the Budget in the Assembly.
Apart from this, Mitra also announced the exemption of education and rural employment cess on green tea leaves for the financial year 2018-19.
"The tea industry is grateful to the Bengal government for showing deep concern, thereby exempting income tax and the cess," stated Sandip Mukherjee, principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association.
Mukherjee stated that the Darjeeling tea industry, hit by frequent political upheavals, erratic weather, falling prices and rising cost of production, is in deep waters.
The tea industry employs 1.5 million people directly and 4.5 million people indirectly and is the second largest tea producer in the world after China.
Not only the tea estates, but small tea growers will also benefit from the waiver. "Since long, we have been asking the state government to do away with the tax. It is a very positive move on the part of the state government and will help us immensely," stated Bijoy Gopal Chakroborty, President, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers' Association.
However, the tea industry failed to secure a place in the Union Budget. "Tea industry as an agricultural produce should have received some consideration. It also brings in precious foreign exchange," lamented Mukherjee.
There are 283 tea gardens in the five tea-producing districts in North Bengal, namely Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Uttar Dinajpur.
The tea industry of North Bengal employs around 3.5 lakh permanent and casual workers.