Bangladesh Tensions with India Impact 1000 Tea Plantations on the Border

WTN140120_MAP_BangladeshJALPAIGURI, West Bengal – Along Assam’s southern border with Bangladesh, tea growers report cross-border tensions are at a high. The border fence runs through tea gardens maintained by growers in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal.

At the time the territorial boundary was established the precise location of the “zero line” was not known. During the past few years India has constructed a 4,000 kilometer, nine-foot-high fence of multi-layered barbed wire to discourage illegal immigration and smuggling. Approximately 3,200 kilometers faces Bangladesh with 1,066 kilometers bordering the State of Bengal, according to a report in the Hindu Business Line.

The fence was erected 150 yards from the zero line creating a zone ruled by India but easily accessed by Bangladesh. Tea production in this area totals 50 million kilos, valued at US$10.5 million.

“Over 1000 small tea plantations, recognized by Tea Board of India, are situated in the land along the Indo Bangla border. Many have special permission of Border Security Force (BSF) guarding the international border, to plant tea,” explains Bijoy Gopal Chakroborty, President, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations (CISTA).

Chakroborty told the Economic Times pilferage has been growing for the past several months with thieves now absconding with pumps, irrigation pipes, sprayers and farm implements. Indian growers are permitted to cross through gates into the buffer zone but must return at night.

This has escalated to large-scale green leaf theft which has “hit hard the economy of these STGs (Small Tea Growers),” he said. Growers can only complain to the security forces after the fact, since they are not allowed access their land at night.

“We accept that BSF is always active everywhere. But it is impossible for them too to keep everyone out of our lands in opposite side of the fence,” tea planter P. Saha told the newspaper.