Vol. 5 Num 1073 Fri. June 08, 2007  

Power outage takes huge toll on tea industry

The frequent power outage has badly affected the country's tea production this year, industry insiders said.

As the whole tea processing chain ranging from withering, cutting and fermenting to drying and sorting is dependent on electricity-run machines, frequent low voltage and load shedding for at least 5 to 6 hours a day are taking a huge toll on the industry.

Out of total 160 tea gardens in the country, some 140 are located in Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts.

Habiganj Palli Bidyut Samity and Moulvibazar Palli Bidyut Samity supply electricity to most of the gardens.

But they are not able to supply only 7 to 8 megawatt of electricity to the tea gardens in the three districts against the gardens' total demand for at least 15 megawatt a day.

The two rural power distribution bodies now cannot supply more than 20 MW whereas the total demand for electricity in the area is 55MW a day on an average.

While talking to The Daily Star, Shahjahan Akand, manager of the Samonbhag Tea Estate in Barolekha upazila, said when load shedding is a common phenomenon, low voltage has added to the miseries of the tea gardeners.

"We are badly hit by the frequent fluctuation in voltage. In April and May, the area suffered from power failure for 120-130 hours on an average," he said.

Alternative arrangement could not ensure steady and normal supply of electricity, he lamented, adding that only a few multinational concerns had their substitute arrangements.

Sources said a number of small power plant projects the government took up in the last decade to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply for the tea gardens are yet to be implemented. The April 1997 inter-ministerial decision to ensure supply of an additional 10 MW to the industrial units still sees no light.

There are allegations that the Rural Electrification Board (REB) cancelled a private sector initiative for setting up a 10MW power plant at Shaistaganj in Habiganj district in the year 2000.

According to the REB, this project lacked any commercial viability.

Besides, in 2002, the plan for establishing 2 power plants, each of 35 MW at Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts for the tea sector, also remained unimplemented.