Assam’s 180-year-old tea industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown and is staring at a massive revenue loss, according to an industry expert.

The state’s tea gardens employ around lakhs of regular and temporary workers; they had to close on March 22 but were allowed to resume operations in mid-April with a maximum of 50 per cent of their workforce.

The first flush of tea — which falls between March and April and produces the best quality — has been affected.

“We missed the first flush and [are] hopeful that we will get the second flush,” said Dipankar Deka, the Assam branch secretary of the Tea Association of India.

“The loss has been attributed to skiffing, or removal of overgrown tea leaves that are not fit for harvesting — and when tea leaves become too long, overgrown, we can’t produce the best quality tea,” he said.

“The entire tea industry of Assam has faced a loss of around Rs 1,000 crore,” Deka said.

Now that production has restarted, there is another problem: sales.

Deka points to difficulties faced by producers in getting samples to buyers in faraway states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

“We don’t know how to send the produce samples to them,” he said.

Without their participation in a tea auction that began Thursday in Guwahati, he said, “we will not get a good price”.

Deka also said it would be difficult to pay staff without sales.

“The tea gardens have opened with maximum 50 percent workforce and the gardens have to bear all expenses. Without selling the tea how we will get the money to pay the workers?”

“In a medium-sized tea garden”, he said, “there are around 2,000 workers. We have not only to pay their wages, [but] also provide rations,” he said.

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