While the COVID-induced economic distress struck all sectors, the Assam tea industry also apprehends that the prolonged drought-like situation might cause a crop deficit from January to May this year amounting to about 40 percent, over the same period in 2019.
North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) adviser Bidyananda Barkakoty, citing a recent study, said that due to the protracted drought-like situation, the crop deficit from January to May this year would be about 60 million kg, compared with the same period in 2019.
"We have not compared crop figures with the year 2020 because last year the crop deficit from January to May was 78 million kg due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown. In percentage terms, the crop deficit from January to May this year would be about 40 percent compared to the same period in 2019," Barkakoty told the media.
He said that the average rainfall deficit is about 45 percent from January to April this year compared with the same period last year in Assam's main tea growing districts - Golaghat to Tinsukia. He said that nowadays rainfall is highly localised and there is a difference in the quantum of rainfall within a few kilometres.
NETA's former Chairman Manoj Jallan said that such a prolonged drought has not been witnessed in the last 30 years. "Apart from the huge loss of crop due to rainfall deficit, the drought at the very beginning of the tea season has also delayed the application of fertilisers by around two months. This will only add to the loss of crop during the ensuing peak harvesting months," he said.
NETA Chairman Sunil Jallan said that the tea industry of Assam is facing tough times again this year. "Last year the tea industry suffered due to lockdown and this year, a severe deficit of rainfall in the beginning of the season causing havoc in tea production," he said.
Bharatiya Cha Parishad (BCP) Chairman Nalin Khemani felt that due to very low crop till May and likely impact in crop for June as well, huge revenue would be lost by the Assam tea industry.
BCP Adviser Mrigendra Jalan told the media that extreme weather fluctuations both in terms of temperature and rainfall have impacted the growth of tea leaves severely. "Temperature drop from 34 to 19 degrees Centigrade coupled with hardly any sunshine for the last one week, preceded by temperatures above 34 degree Centigrade is playing havoc with the crop," he pointed out.
Amid the drought-like situation prevailing in Assam, the tea industry is also facing the Covid pandemic with several hundred workers in many tea gardens under at least 15 districts having been infected by the virus.
Health officials in Guwahati said that after the detection of the virus among many workers, several measures have been taken to check the spread of the virus, including setting up of containment zones and ramping up testing facilities.
Assam has over 10 lakh tea workers in the organised sector working in 850 tea estates. Assam roughly produces 55 percent of India's Tea. The tea belts of Brahmaputra and Barak valley have over 60 lakh people.