Tea distribution via PDS puts Nilgiris growers in a quandary

Small tea growers in the Nilgiris — who have been appealing to the State Government to procure the “Ooty Tea” for supply through the public distribution system — seem to be caught in the race between the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with the former confirming an order for distribution through PDS.

“Who is benefited in the bargain? Is it the ailing small grower or IndcoServe or Kerala?” asked HN Sivan, Founder-President, Nilgiris Nelikolu Micro and Small Tea Growers & Farmers Development Society (NSTF).

Tea at ration shops

While hailing the State government’s efforts in reviving the ailing Indco tea factories and it’s 30,000-odd member-farmers, Sivan said that he had appealed to the government to procure tea from TN Small Tea Growers Industrial Cooperative Tea Factories Federation Ltd (Indco) and distribute it free of cost to all the ration cardholders in the State.

“There are 2 crore ration cardholders in the State. Even if the government considers to give 500 gm of tea to each cardholder, it would cost the exchequer ₹100 crore only. This gesture though would go a long way in helping the small tea growers get ₹17-20 a kg for their green leaf, safeguard their livelihood in this crucial period, create demand for teas made by other tea factories and stabilise the market from further fall,” Sivan said.

According to him, the 16 Indco factories procure around 35 per cent of the total Nilgiris green tea leaves from its 30,000-plus members and produce around 2 crore kg of made teas per year.

Indco member-farmers are now hoping to get a realistic price for the green leaves supplied, as per the order of the Madras High Court.

Quality issues

Sivakumar of Ettayam Green Leaf Agency told BusinessLine that the quality of the green leaf was tending to drop as farmers had not plucked the tender shoots for close to 3 weeks. Yet another small grower, Rajkutty, said there was paucity of farm hands, as labourers were stuck elsewhere.

While small growers supplying the green leaf to Indco factories see some respite with the government reviving factory operations, the rest are in a fix saying their survival is at stake.