World’s oldest tea research centre fights for survival

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GUWAHATI: The world’s first institute for research on tea – the Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI) in Jorhat district of the state – is fighting for survival.

Facing a severe funds crunch, the premier institute is finding it hard to continue work on major scientific projects like development of new tea clone, mechanization of operations in the sector, reduction of pesticide load in tea gardens and determination of the impact of climate change on the sector.

The TTRI, which was set up in 1911 as Tocklai Experimental Station, is partly funded by the Centre and partly by the tea industry. The total budget of TTRI is around Rs 28 crore, of which around Rs 1.5 crore forms the salary component. The institution, run by the Tea Research Association (TRA), is finding it hard to even pay salaries to its employees after the Centre slashed its share of funds by around 76% in this financial year.

“In 2016-17, we were supposed to get Rs 25 crore but this was reduced to Rs 6 crore. As a result, major research and development work has taken a severe beating. We are somehow managing to pay the salaries of our scientists and staff. Though the reduction in funds has been going on from 2012, it has turned worse over the past two years,” TRA secretary Joydeep Phukan said on the sidelines of the northeast tea conclave and expo on Friday. “We still have to pay provident fund and gratuity arrears worth Rs 6 to Rs 7 crore,” he added.

The funds cut has come at a time tea-producing countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka have scaled up funds for tea research and development, Phukan added.

State industries and commerce minister Chandra Mohan Patowary assured representatives of the tea sector at the conclave that the Assam government would take up the matter of funds with the Centre soon.

“TTRI has done some of the finest research and development work in the tea sector. We cannot allow financial constraints to affect its functioning. We will urge the Centre to restore funds to TTRI so that its activities are not hampered,” Patowary said.

An exclusive tea park, which will have all facilities for both tea packagers and buyers, is coming up near the Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport here, the minister added.

Speaking at the conclave, Assam additional chief secretary MGVK Bhanu, who served earlier as the chairman of the Tea Board of India, underscored the importance of investing more in tea research.

Vice-chairman of the Tea Board Bidyananda Barkakoty said maintaining quality, as well as meeting production costs, has emerged as a major challenge for the sector in Assam which produces 52% of the country’s tea.

“All stakeholders in the tea sector should work together to meet the challenges. About 85% of the tea produced in the country is for domestic consumption. We should look into increasing the domestic demand of tea,” Barkakoty added