MARS Group Buys 5 India Tea Gardens

KOLKATA, West Bengal

Half of the productive tea lands in the highly-lucrative Darjeeling region of West Bengal remain underutilized.

Firm prices for tea and strong export demand is stimulating renewed interest and investment. Last month the MARS Group of companies, a leading plywood and veneer producer and one of India’s largest timber importers, acquired five of 13 West Bengal tea estates deemed sub-standard.

The initial gardens in Alipurduar include Raimatang Tea Estate and the Kalchini Tea Estate which have been reopened and have a total capacity of 4 million kgs. The firm later acquired Redbank Group’s Raimatang, Kalchini and Buxa Dooars Tea Co. gardens in the Barnarhat area of the Dooars which produce 1.5 million kgs.

MARS, which operates modern milling factories near Kolkata and Keralta, is currently restoring infrastructure and replacing aging tea bushes and anticipates spending INRs 100 crore ($18.9 million) acquiring additional land.

MARS Group Managing Director Roshan L. Agarwal told the Economic Times the decision to take over closed tea gardens in the Dooars last year required sorting out and overcoming many old, statutory settlements and other associated problems.

 The Alipurduar area gardens employ 3,000 and the Banarhat area gardens employ 1,500 workers. “The entire worker fraternity at these gardens was in deep poverty and we all have witnessed the acute socio-economic problems. Restoration of employment to several thousand people is testimony of our corporate social responsibility,” he told the newspaper.

The firm is pursuing renewal of assistance offered in 2008 by the West Bengal government, according to Agarwal who is also seeking additional benefits “to keep the sector viable,” according to the Financial Chronicle.

In addition to the factories, the firm has reopened hospitals, schools and support facilities for workers, according to Goutam Bhattacharya, president of marketing, MARS Group.

"There are many more problems to be addressed and we are seeking the assistance from the relevant labor, commerce and other Departments of our government for making a complete turn-around at an earliest. Currently the company is heading towards its aspiration level and expected to achieve better performances by launching new and innovative products," he said.

Source: Economic Times, Financial Chronicle