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A view of Manipur's Jiribam Tea Estate

Jiribam Tea Estate will be Shrunken on Account of Recent State Cabinet Decision Which Went Against BJP Manipur’s Vision Document of 2017

While the State Government is suggesting tea plantation as one of the alternatives to poppy plantation as part of War on Drugs campaign launched in November 2018, the once promising Jiribam Tea Estate established during 1981 located at Monbung in Jiribam district which has been dysfunctional for many years will now be shrunken. The Manipur Cabinet held on June 23 at the Cabinet Hall of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat resolved to transfer the 600 acres of land out of 1050 acres of Jiribam Tea Estate to MANIREDA of Power Department for development of 100 MW Solar Photovoltaic Plant under the 15th Finance Commission.

Even though the State Government can use the state land for whatever the State thinks fit to good use and whatever the State Government decided is also said time and again by the present government to be for the good of the public and the state, the decision has shocked many who has been yearning for many years to revive the dysfunctional Jiribam Tea Estate as it is related with pride and development of Manipur.

Wild tea plants grow in many parts of Manipur and once M K Binodini daughter of Meidingu Churachand Maharaja told this writer that there was a story of taking tea plants out of Manipur by British officers. Moreover, Chanung village in Imphal East district is said to be once a habitat of wild tea plants. Tea is grown in the districts of Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Jiribam.

Although the place of origin of the tea plant is still a matter of conjecture, Manipur is also one of the many places. Controversies among scientists and scholars continue for many years as to whether the tea plant originated in China or in India. Although indigenous Assam tea was discovered in 1823, records have it that 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.

Plantation of tea and establishment of tea factory under the Manipur Plantation Crops Corporation Limited (MPCC), a state government undertaking under the supervision of Agriculture Department was started in 1981 in accordance to a decision of the then Government of Manipur.

The Jiribam Tea Estate was established with a loan of Rs 1.80 crore from a Kolkata based corporation and another loan of Rs 1, 56, 80,200 was taken from India Tea Board for constructing the processing unit

After years of successful operation, Jiribam Tea Estate has been lying unattended for even longer period. However, the people of Manipur particularly Jiribam district has been hoping for reviving the estate in order to bring economic development of the state and its people. The Jiribam Tea Estate has a total area of 425 hectare (1050 acres) and tea plants were planted in 300 hectares (741.32 acres) with successful cultivation in 200 hectares (494.21 acres). Fresh tea leaves were sold to estates in Assam’s Jirighat and other areas. 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 tea estate was successfully providing job opportunities to several educated youths and manual labourers of the district. Since its inception upto June 30, 1997, the yield of green tea leaves from the tea estate was said to be approximately 200 MT and the produces were sold to the Jirighat Tea Estate at Cachhar, Assam at the rate of Rs.5 Kg. Upto the end of June, 1997, MPCC had collected a total revenue of around Rs.10 lakhs and till 2000-01, a sum of Rs 1, 68, 26,195 have been earned from selling green tea leaves from the tea estate alone.

However, the downfall of the estate began after the government appointed several staff against the sanctioned posts. Since then, the estate has been deteriorating leading to its present defunct state. In 2006, the then agriculture minister late Pheiroijam Parijat told the state assembly that the government is facing certain difficulties in providing salaries and maintaining the estate due to appointment of 88 excess staff.

Moreover, despite an earlier State Cabinet decision in favour of winding up MPCC, the State Government did pump in Rs 9 lakhs in an attempt to revive the tea estate and K Ranjit, who was then the Agriculture Minister, personally went to Jiribam in May 2004 to install some new equipment for re-operation of the tea factory. The help of Kolkata based M/S Vikram India Ltd, which was responsible for the construction of the tea factory initially too had been sought and the engineers of the firm brought to Jiribam to complete the unfinished portion of the factory for the revival of the tea estate.

Interestingly, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren’s Cabinet meeting held on September 20, 2018 at Jiribam decided that the defunct Jiribam Tea Estate would be restarted in public-private partnership model through open tendering. The cabinet has decided that 400 acres would be used in tea plantation, 600 acres in rubber plantation and 100 acres in coffee plantation.

Lok Sabha MP from Inner Manipur, R.K. Ranjan at the Jiribam tea estate

Notably, Inner Manipur MP Dr RK Ranjan expressed shock and displeasure in witnessing the present condition of Jiribam Tea Estate located at Jiribam on his visit on November 23, 2020.

“The Jiribam Tea Estate was initiated by Manipur Plantation Crop Corporation and infrastructure was built during the tenure of A Biren. However the present condition of the estate is very unfortunate. Neglecting the tea estate, which is a matter of pride and source of income for the state is a loss for the state as a whole”, BJP MP Dr. RK Ranjan said.

Recalling his last visit to the estate in 2014, the MP said the present condition is very much different to what he witnessed last time and many items from the estate including iron, tin roof etc are missing and questions the motive behind such uncivilized act.

He further said, with an aim to revive Manipur Tea, a formal request was sent to Assam Tea Board and to then Union Minister of Trade and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman, wherein the Assam Tea Board gave assurances to help in every possible ways in reviving Manipur Tea.

Consequent with this request, a total survey was conducted by Assam Tea Board at Jiribam, Tamenglong and Ukhrul where Jiribam is identified to be highly potential for Tea Plantation and Production. MP Dr. Ranjan also recalled the origin of Tea from Manipur, as included in the Britannica Encyclopaedia, reports said.

One wonders why Jiribam Tea Estate which produced 0.11 million kg cannot survive while Meghalaya (0.10 million kg) and Mizoram (0.07 million kg) continue to sustain according to the data mentioned as presented by Tea Board of India before the 3rd Sectoral Summit and Special Meeting of the North Eastern Council on March 9, 2007.

The recent State Cabinet decision to transfer 600 acres of land from the Jiribam Tea Estate to MANIREDA of Power Department for development of 100 MW Solar Photovoltaic Plant under the 15th Finance Commission is in no way to revive the tea estate as stated in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manipur’s Vision Document of 2017.

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