Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Mar 25, 2002
Agri-Biz & Commodities
From wasteland to garden: A successful STEP -- IIT-Kharagpur's initiative pays off
Ambar Singh Roy
KHARAGPUR, March 24
A CO-OPERATIVE movement for tea cultivation in the wastelands on the outskirts of the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-KGP), is poised to take off with a tea processing plant being set up here by the Science & Technology Entrepreneurs' Park (STEP) of IIT-KGP.
A sum of Rs 20 lakh has been sanctioned by the Department of Science & Technology for setting up the tea processing plant which is slated to be operational within the next three months.
Over 10 acres of wastelands out of the 100 acres that has been given to STEP by the West Bengal Government at Gopali on the outskirts of the campus here has already been converted into a tea plantation in association with Goodricke Group Ltd, which has provided material, operational and technical inputs for the project free of cost. More land will be brought under tea cultivation in a phased manner.
It all began in the later half of 2000 when STEP and IIT-KGP's Department of Agricultural & Food Engineering, along with Department of Science & Technology, Government of India, jointly endeavoured to grow tea in the wastelands on the outskirts of the IIT-KGP campus here. An experimental plantation on a one-acre plot inside the campus proved a success following which tea major Goodricke Group Ltd provided 30,000 saplings free of cost. The company also provided full technical know-how as well.
A judicious blend of orthodox, CTC and green teas of mixed grades have been planted and the tea produced has been certified by independent tea-tasters as being ``hard and bright liquor with quite a nice character'' and ``attractive tea (that) will be very much acceptable in the market''. Incidentally, of the 14 STEP outfits in the country, only STEP at IIT-KGP which in turn is the only STEP in the IIT system is engaged in tea cultivation.
Mr V.K. Sharma, a retired senior executive of Goodricke Group Ltd, feels the quality of the tea produced here is ``comparable with the Dooars tea or teas grown in the North Bengal region''. Mr Sharma, along with another retired senior colleague, Mr B.B. Bhagat, have continued to offer their expertise to the tea project on an honorary basis after their retirement. The Goodricke Group Managing Director, Mr K. David, has reiterated his continued support for the project.
The endeavour now was to convince people who own wasteland in the area to embark upon tea cultivation. According to Prof. N.P. Rao, Managing Director of STEP, many people in the area have wasteland holdings of between two and three acres each. ``We shall supply them the saplings and buy the tea back from them as well. Our estimate is that a family of four can earn Rs 5,000 per month if they engage in tea cultivation on wastelands owned by them. However, we must have something to showcase before we succeed in convincing them on the efficacy of taking to tea cultivation. This processing plant, we are hopeful, will go a long way in this regard and help kick off a co-operative movement in the region''.
Prof B.C. Ghosh of the Department of Agricultural & Food Engineering informed that local people had enquired about the prospects of tea cultivation during the recently-concluded Krishi Mela that was held here.
The processing plant will have a handling capability of 2,000 kg of green leaf per day. This will translate into 400 kg of finished tea per day. While initially the tea will be sold locally, plans to sell it at the auctions or in packet form at a later date have not been ruled out.
It is estimated that each hectare under tea cultivation will yield between 2,500 kg and 3,000 kg of finished tea.
Prof Rao said that steps were being taken to augment irrigation facilities in the region. The administration had been requested to install a few deep tubewells.
``We shall also request them to subsidise the cost of power that is required for agricultural activities'', he said, adding that a proposal for use of karanjia oil as a substitute for diesel for running farm equipment was being reviewed by Department of Science & Technology of the Centre. The move was aimed at reducing the cost of irrigation, among other things.
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