Tea is a continuous processing industry we have to harvest everyday and we were in the middle of our first flush. This year it was a really good crop, with good prices. And then boom! Without any advance notice, we had to shut down. The way it’s been done doesn’t make any sense at all. They should have treated each garden as one unit and monitored the lockdown strictly. Here, all that’s happened is that work has stopped, but workers are allowed to go to the market, kids are playing together. Is COVID-19 only going to be spread if tea is produced? All other activities are ok?
We already had precautions and protocols at the garden and factory. And at weighment, strict distancing had been enforced with a facial recognition system to record each plucker.
We have been told informally that we will have to pay labour during the lockdown (the tea garden has some 600 employees). Now I’ll have to borrow from the bank to pay the wages. The government should have said, Pay your workers and you’ll get zero interest loans.’ But there has been nothing so far.
We have taken a huge hit. We’ll have to slash or skiff’ the bushes when we reopen in mid-April. That basically means taking a machete to them, and then it takes the bushes 3-4 weeks to recover. April is the driest period, and you never put a knife to the bushes. So the delay will be even longer. We’ve lost half of March and probably all of Apriland with the skiffing we will lose our prized second flush as well. This doesn’t bode well for the tea industry or for Indian tea exports.
—As told to Kai Friese