After the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA) has now requested the state government to consider exempting the tea industry from the lockdown that is in place, however, under “strict safety and hygiene guidelines.”

In a letter to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, the Chairman of the CCPA, Vivek Goyenka, has urged the government to allow operations in tea estates, subject to adopting all safety and hygiene norms. “We would be grateful if our submissions as stated above are considered favourably by the state government to enable the industry to tide over this period of crisis,” Mr Goyenka said.

Planters and owners of tea gardens in north Bengal are upset as they have not been able to continue plucking of green leaves, processing and manufacturing during the first flush, the prime season for tea business that has already begun. Planters are also confused over some orders of the state government and even the Centre’s Tea Board of India (TBI).

Notably, the Assam state government has shut down all tea plantations compulsorily in view of the COVID-19 spread. The TBI’s order says that all tea gardens in the country are under lockdown and are not operational. “Thereby all stakeholders are advised not to take cognizance of the message that are going on. Further relevant information on their topic will be disseminated through proper channel,” the Board has said.

Planters are now have a ray of hope, following an order issued by the Chief Secretary of West Bengal on 26 March, which lists exceptions or exemptions on the movement of personnel and supply of essential goods and services. The order also mentions that ‘production and manufacturing units requiring continuous process (after obtaining necessary approval from the district magistrate in respective districts) are allowed to function during the lockdown.

Mr Goyenka has said that the tea manufacturing factories require a continuous process. Green tea leaf requires processing within a stipulated time while tea bushes also require continuous plucking, failing which the plant is overgrown, causing damage to the tea bush and the soil, making it unsuitable for plucking and manufacture further, planters say. CM Mamata Banerjee today said her team will review the situation on Monday and formulate steps to deal with the present crisis.