Sunday, December 29, 2013


There was a time in India when every Tom, Dick and Harry were singing the famous song " small is beautiful" and governments at the state as well as at Delhi were promoting small scale industries "left, right and the center"! There were more than 800 products exclusively reserved for the small scale sector to manufacture making them out of bounds for big fishes. The "liberalized" economic policies and open arm welcome of transnational giants to India during early nineteen nineties sounded death knell for these small units and the branded products of the former took hold of the consumer imagination. Also the economic and management pundits, most of them foreign educated propounded the "economy of scale" theory which proclaims that larger the manufacturing plant lower will be cost of production. Availability of large capacity automated machinery further facilitated the creation of mammoth plants obliterating the small players with brutal force. Tea processing and sugar manufacture were two areas where captive growing areas were attached to the factories to feed their capacity and small scale processing was just not possible. Now comes the news that GOI is going to promote small scale tea brewing plants in small tea gardens so that they are in a better position to manage the logistics of plucking the leaves and feeding the factories with minimum time lapse. Naturally this will improve the quality of final tea products and introduce tremendous varieties in marketed tea products. Here is a take on this issue being actively considered by the tea Board which will be a good thing to happen to the industry as well as the consumer.   

"The Tea Board, in its meeting held in Tezpur on Monday, has given its approval to setting up of mini and micro factories by small tea growers within their plantation areas. The Board will provide subsidy to improve quality of tea made by reducing transportation time to retain garden freshness, improving plucking standards and by ensuring less handling of green leaf from small tea gardens. The Tea Board defined factories with capacity upto 200 kgs made tea production per day as ''micro factory'' and those below 500 kgs made tea production per day as ''mini factory.'' Tea growers having land holding of their plantation up to 10.12 hectare (25 acres) are considered small tea growers. The meeting, chaired by Tea Board chairman M.G V.K. Bhanu, also approved that small tea growers can set-up factories without registering themselves under Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO), 2003. The small tea growers will now be able to set-up their own factories only by obtaining a certificate from Tea Board and will be able to sell their teas through auction centres or directly from their factories. "If the small tea growers are able to set up their own factories within their plantation area the quality of tea will definitely improve because of improvement in plucking standards, less transportation time and less handling of green leaf. It will also generate huge employment at local level," said Bidyananda Barkakoty, Chairman of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), who is also a member of Advisory committee of the Directorate of small tea growers headquartered at Dibrugarh."

As the saying goes, it is better late than never and this is especially true vis-a-vis small scale tea gardens. Now that such a policy is going to be a reality unless the big fishes sabotage the same, there is a challenge for the engineering industry to design small machinery at low cost to meet the new needs of the small processors. Of course tea leaves processing is relatively simple with minimum unit operations and some of existing machinery already being manufactured in the country can be used with minor changes. Here are the wishes for the newly emerging small plants which must strive to reduce the price of tea in the market as much as possible, in stead of ganging up with the big players for keeping the prices artificially high.  


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