Updated on 24 Jun 2021, 8:00 pm
Representational Image (PHOTO: Pixabay)
After the Manipur Cabinet on Wednesday agreed to transfer 600 acres of land from the Tea Estate at Jiribam to MANIREDA for development of a 100 MW Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant under the 15th Finance Commission, it came as a shocker to many who had been yearning to bring back to life the dysfunctional estate for many years. Of course, since the land is state’s it can do whatever it choses for putting it to good use. Jiribam had already lost a Bamboo Chipping Plant, and now the stage is set for losing another public undertaking in the district. After years of successful operation, the Jiribam Tea Estate had been lying unattended for a long period. Reviving the estate in order to bring economic development had been a dream of the people of the district.
Established in 1981-82, the tea estate located at Monbung in Jiribam district has a total area of 425 hectare or more than 1000 acres. Fresh tea leaves were sold to estates in Assam’s Jirighat and other areas then. As the profit margin was low in selling fresh leaves, the government constructed a processing unit to export dried and crushed tea leaves in 2000 for augmenting the profit. The estate was successfully providing job opportunities to several educated youths and manual labourers of the district. However, the downfall of the estate began after the management appointed several personnel against the sanctioned posts. Since then, the estate has been deteriorating leading to its present defunct state. Now, more than half of the land belonging to the Tea Estate is going to be sliced away to give way for the Solar Power Plant. Yes, the state needs clean energy and more power plants without disturbing the environment or ecology. But, it is indeed tragic that such a plant would shatter the dreams of a distant district.
We had earlier suggested tea plantation as an alternative crop to lure the poppy farmers. The chief minister had been asking villagers to choose alternative means of livelihood instead of poppy plantation in hill areas of Manipur as a part of the "War of Drugs” launched in November 2018 by the state government. The chief minister had floated palm trees, lemongrass and other horticulture items or mithun rearing as alternatives. Although the place of origin of the tea plant is still a matter of speculation, Manipur is also one of the many places. For many years, controversies raged among scientists and scholars as to whether the tea plant originated in China or in India. Indigenous Assam tea was discovered in 1823. Since the early part of 19th century, discovery of ‘wild’ tea plants in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Myanmar, Thailand and upto South Vietnam and Laos indicates that this part is the original habitat of tea plants. The tea tracts where the so-called “wild” tea was discovered were almost certainly clumps of cultivated tea abandoned by the migratory hill tribes.
Tea requires a moderately hot and humid climate. Climate influences yield, crop distribution and quality. Therefore, before cultivating tea in a new area, the suitability of the climate is the first point to be considered. Tea grows best on well-drained fertile acid soil on highlands. Tea plantations require even distribution of water without any water logging. Hill slopes provide proper drainage and prevent water logging problems. This is the reason why tea plantations are usually grown on hill slopes. Attempts to expand tea in non-traditional areas have not been met with much success since large plantations do not seem to be interested in increasing their area. Under such a situation, promoting small scale tea cultivation appears to be the most practical business proposition in the potential areas. However, the small scale tea sector faces a number of problems like lack of capital, improper knowledge and techniques of tea cultivation, and problem of marketing. A new type of production organisation and ownership structure may be promoted to look after the multi-pronged problems of production, marketing and supporting services for the small holder tea production. And let us begin that experiment in whatever is left of the Tea Estate lands.