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Former tea garden workers are Tripura's new entrepreneurs

 Kamalpur (Tripura), July 11 (IANS): A tea garden worker until seven years ago, 48-year-old Matang Tanglua is today among over 5,500 entrepreneurs who own small tea estates of their own, making meaningful contributions to the State that is emerging as a significant exporter of the commodity.


More than four decades ago, Tanglua's poverty-stricken family had come to Tripura from Orissa in search of a job. Tripura's then flourishing tea industry had provided them a livelihood and they became a traditional tea workers' family. Tanglua was a five-year-old boy when his father, mother and grandfather started life as workers in a tea garden in northern Tripura.

"My grandfather died, parents became aged. Until seven years ago I was a tea garden worker as my ancestors. Now I am a small tea grower, having a little over five acres of tea cultivation areas," said Tanglua. "From our small savings and by working both at the tea garden and the tea processing factory, we could earn some money to purchase the 'tilla land' (small hill). The government also helped me to set up the small tea garden," Tangula told IANS.

The northeastern State of Tripura, which has a 115-year-old history of tea plantations, has successfully nurtured 5,500 small tea growers like Tanglua among tribals and non-tribals during the past decade.

The modest farmers-tea workers-small traders-turned tea garden owners not only became self-reliant but also employed a large number of local people in their tiny tea gardens ranging from two to three acres.

Tripura, bordering Bangladesh, produced nine million kg of processed tea last year from an area of 7,500 hectares. It is the fifth largest among 14 tea-producing States after Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The Tripura government, in collaboration with the Tea Board of India, has plans to boost production by providing better irrigation and technical facilities. This is also because the state, once ravaged by terrorism, has created history of sorts in exports of tea.

"We recently exported tea named Jewel Tips to Iran, the UK and some Scandinavian countries. This is the first time ever in the 115-year-old history of tea plantations that Tripura's tea has been exported," said Jagadhish Chandra Das, general manager of the Laxmi Tea Estate group of companies.

The first lot of tea exported from Tripura to Iran and other countries was grown in the Manu Valley tea gardens, one of the seven plantations of Kolkata-based Laxmi Tea Estate group of companies in the northeastern state.

According to Tripura Industries and Commerce Minister Jitendra Choudhury, the state will soon start producing green tea, which has a high demand in the international market.

"A cooperative owned tea estate -- Ludhua Tea Estate in southern Tripura -- has commissioned modern machinery to produce and process green tea from October this year," the minister told IANS.

Choudhury said the state government has drawn up ambitious plans to raise its processed tea production from the existing 1,446 kg per hectare to the national average of 2,100 kg per hectare.

In Tripura, 7,500 hectares of land is currently under tea plantations even though around 15,000 hectares of land is earmarked for the purpose.

"Some tea estate owners are trying to develop unutilised land earmarked for tea plantations for different other purposes. The state government would not allow this and may take over these lands for developmental purposes," said Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar after inaugurating a modern tea processing cooperative factory earlier this week.

The Dhalai tea processing cooperative factory at Kamalpur, 180 km north of Tripura's capital Agartala, was set up at a cost of Rs.30 million, part of which was sanctioned by the North Eastern Council (NEC), a regional planning body.

"The tea processing factory with a capacity to produce about 200,000 kg of made tea (finished tea) per year utilising about 1 million kg of green leaf would greatly help 2,500 small tea growers and other tea estates in the remote Dhalai district," said Tripura Industrial Development Corporation chairman Pabitra Kar.

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