Commerce Minister, Bengal MP clash over tea gardens’ situation

Commerce Minister, Bengal MP clash over tea gardens’ situation

New Delhi, Aug 8 (IANS) Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury clashed in the Lok Sabha on Monday as he accused the minister of a “flip flop” policy on the condition of tea gardens in north Bengal. These, he said, had become “enclaves” of death and destitution.

“You are well aware that the northern part of West Bengal where a great number of tea estates are situated has become an enclave of death and destitution. But in spite of all your promises, the situation of the closed tea gardens has not changed at all. So, I would like to know whether the government will continue its flip-flop policy or come with a comprehensive strategy,” Chowdhury, who represents Baharampur, said during Question Hour.

In response, a visibly-upset Sitharaman shot back that she was in close touch with the state government and “we have taken over some of the closed tea gardens because the workers were in desperation”.

“The member does not even probably know that I had visited the north Bengal tea gardens in December 2014, again in 2015 and I had gone up to the border of Bhutan visiting all of these gardens. I am sorry that the member is not even aware of these,” she said amid interruptions.

The deteriorating conditions of tea gardens in north Bengal made news in January 2016 in the run-up to the elections to the West Bengal assembly.

Answering supplementary questions, Sitharaman said India’s tea production registered a growth of 3 per cent last year with small tea growers contributing over 30 per cent.

“Let us understand that nearly 34 percent of all tea which is produced in India is produced by small farmers,” she said, adding production during 2015-16 was 1,233.14 million kg, which was one of the highest ever.

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