Category Archives: Agriculture

Indigo researcher digs out nuggets from past

Jenny Balfour-Paul at The Bengal Club. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

• A famous tea company in Calcutta traded in indigo in British India. That’s how its office on RN Mukherjee Road, Nilhat House, got its name.

•Opium and indigo growers were locked in constant rivalry before 1859

• Evidence of indigo dye has been even found in the remains of the Indus Valley civilisation


Such nuggets from history made up writer Jenny Balfour-Paul’s hour-long Bengal Club Library Talk, organised in association with The Telegraph, on November 8.

Balfour-Paul, who has researched indigo for decades, traced its history right from the early evidence to the exploitation faced by farmers in pre-Independence Bengal.

The session was peppered with anecdotes, humour and photographs of travel that she undertook since 2000 to bring together the indigo story.

The highlight of the evening was shots of a handwritten journal by 19th century British explorer Thomas Machell, who got the author inspired in the first place.

Machell had lived in Calcutta and worked in several indigo plantations in the 19th century. His journal traced his experience and the culture of the time, in the form of correspondence to his father in England.

Balfour-Paul shared with the audience how she found Machell’s journals by accident. “I was in the British Library surfing through old books and records when I found this valuable piece of history. It was the word indigo that made me reach out for it,” she said.

One line in the handwritten diary had particularly caught her eye. “I wonder if anybody will find these journals in the 20th century in a dirty library…” Machell had written. “I thought I was meant to find it,” added Balfour-Paul.

The author decided to travel to all those places where Machell had visited more than 100 years ago. She juxtaposed snaps taken during her visits to Calcutta, Bangladesh and also the Marquesas Island in French Polynesia with the British explorer’s illustrations.

Visits to Calcutta brought out some lesser-known facts. “Tea company J Thomas & Co would auction indigo. No wonder their office was called Nilhat House,” Balfour Paul said.

Another story was about her hunt for Machell’s grave. “Two of his journals are missing and I am still putting together the last six years of his life. I was not sure where he had spent his final years,” Balfour-Paul added.

India made Machell ill. He had left its shores for his native Yorkshire only to come back again. “My daughter and I went places in search of his grave, till we realised he had died near Jabalpur. One rainy day in Jabalpur we almost got ourselves arrested as we went grave hunting,” laughed the author.

She has documented many of her tales in her book, Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / A Staff Reporter / Saturday – November 11th, 2017

Tea garden woman gives karate classes

Subrati Baraik performs karate with a student in Jaigaon. (Anirban Choudhury)

Alipurduar :

A 23-year-old woman is providing training in karate to youths, particularly females so that they could protect themselves from teasing and stalkers.

Subrati Baraik, a resident of Madhu Tea Estate, is running a karate camp in Jaigaon and training youths for their own safety.

Baraik told Metro that she had decided to learn karate after being repeatedly teased by youths at different places.

“Eight years ago, I was teased by some youths while travelling on a train. I was returning home from Siliguri. When I tried to resist them, they passed lewd comments. After few months, a similar incident occurred again at a fair. I felt insulted after both these incidents and decided to learn karate for my safety,” she said.

In 2010, Baraik came to Alipurduar town and met Apra Bora, a karate coach.

“I requested him to teach karate and he started training me. In December 2015, I participated in a National Karate Championship in Hoogly and came first in ‘Kiyukishan Full Body Contact’ category,” she added.

In Jaigaon, located on India-Bhutan boarder and 15km from here, Baraik teaches karate to 20 students, of whom 15 are females.

“I started a camp around three years ago in Jaigaon. I came here with my coach and the urge to learn karate among students made me start the camp. I charge Rs 200 per month for a student,”she said.

Classes are conducted from 8am to 9.30am on Sundays.

Baraik said after learning karate, she had once beaten up a group of youths who were teasing her and also wanted her friends residing in the estate to learn the same.

“I could study till Class X because of financial crisis in the family. I have decided to teach karate to the youth in the garden but it will take time to convince them as they are very shy,” she said.

Baraik holds brown belt in karate.

Apra Bora, Baraik’s coach, said: “She is really talented. If she does training with a lot of sincerity, she will be able to win more championships.”

The garden is 36km from Alipurduar town.

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / by Our Correspondent / Friday – February 17th, 2017

Eveready to hive off packet business business into new entity

Kolkata :

Eveready Industries, the largest dry cell battery manufacturer in India, is planning to hive off its packet tea business into a separate entity. The B M Khaitan Group firm has convened a board meeting on February 20 to restructure the packet tea business. The packet tea with Rs 75 crore turnover now constitutes a little over 5% of the topline of Eveready, once the generic name in battery and flashlights in the country.

A source close to the company told TOI that the management of EIL is contemplating with 2-3 options, including demerger of the packet tea business and making it a wholly owned subsidiary of the battery maker which has diversified into lighting and consumer appliances in the last few years. The demerger of tea business will help Eveready to concentrate on lighting, appliances and bettery businesses which directly leverage the Eveready brand.
“The new company in packet tea will concentrate on tea business. This would be a win-win situation for both the companies. Eveready will concentrate on its core strength while the new company would concentrate on packet tea,” added the source.

The packet tea volume of Eveready is now around 4.5 million kg making it one among many players. But sources pointed out that after the renewed focus on packet tea business, the number could easily go up to 10-15 million kg making it a new company in the top-3 in packet tea after Unilever and Tata Global Beverages. “The new entity may also look for acquisition of packet tea brands and can induct private equity investors as well if needed,” said another source close to the development. B M Khaitan group is already the largest producer in bulk tea globally with 110 million kg output. The bulk tea business of the group comes under McLeod Russel.

Eveready had a turnover of close to Rs 1,400 crore in the last fiscal. The EBITA margin of the company is now at healthy 11%. A source close to Eveready said that after gaining reasonable success in LED lamps, the company is now addressing a growth path in LED Luminaires. “Growth should also come from the newly launched product segment of Appliances, once the distribution network for the same is fully established on ground. The demerger will help these businesses grow faster,” added the source. Eveready sells over 1.2 billion batteries and 25 million flashlights every year.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Udit Mukherji / TNN / February 17th, 2017

Tea tool for planters

Jalpaiguri :

The Tea Board of India today gave plucking machines to 150-odd small growers in the district.

Officials said the machines had been given away with a 50 per cent subsidy to be borne by the board. The remaining amount will be paid by the beneficiaries in three-four installments.

“Getting workers in the tea sector has become a major problem.The small tea sector here is also facing this shortage. That is why the tea board has decided to offer the machines to small growers,” Ramesh Kujur, deputy director of the tea board, said.

The tools that cost between Rs 40,000 and Rs 72,000 were given to planters from Rajganj, Sadar and Mainaguri who had applied for them.

“It can help growers in tackling manpower crisis and also increase the amount of leaves plucked,” Kujur said.

Jalpaiguri has 10,000-odd small planters.


source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,Indai / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / Wednesday – August 10th, 2016

Amrapali mango finding takers in Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaysia

Kolkata :

The little-known Amrapali mango grown in Bankura district of West Bengal has now found buyers in Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Horticulture Department officials said mango producers in Bankura have received orders of exporting 8 metric tonnes of Amrapali to Dubai this season.

“They have started sending it after a quality test report from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) cleared the product,” department official Sanjoy Sengupta said.

He said the delectable taste of the mouth-watering variety has been gaining popularity gradually over the years.
Producers have been sending it to all over the country but this is the first time that any variety of mango from Bankura is getting export orders.

So far, mangoes from Malda and Murshidabad only were the famous ones in the state.

“Now we are trying to create Bankura as a brand in the world of mangoes. Our red laterite soil produces an unmatchable taste,” officials said.

Sengupta said that they were already receiving queries about the fruit from Hong Kong and Malaysia where Amrapali would be exported next year.

This year the district produced around 130 tonnes of Amrapalis in around 730 mango orchards.

The largest orchard of 84 bigha is in Damadorpur where the highest number of Amrapalis are produced.

Last year, Bankura’s Amrapali had bagged the first prize in the agri-horticulture fair in Kolkata.

At an ongoing mango festival in Delhi, where state horticulture department officials are present, Bankura is beating other districts.

“Bankura is getting more attention than any other district. The demand is so high that all our stocks are getting exhausted,” Sengupta said.

source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Kolkata / PTI / June 28th, 2016

Power for 500 garden families

Siliguri :

Around 500 families of a Terai tea garden who had been living without electricity for the past 13 years got power supply in February following the State Legal Services Authority’s instruction to the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited .

Amir Sarkar, the general secretary of the Darjeeling District Legal Aid Forum (DDLAF), a voluntary organisation, said the residents of Girja Line in Gayaganga Tea Estate, 20km from here, had been facing hardships for a long time.

“The information came to us from Dhumkuriya Legal Aid Clinic, Dagapur, which is a unit of the DDLAF, in 2011. We took up the matter with the Sub-Divisional Legal Services Committee here in Siliguri,” Sarkar said.

It was followed by a visit of a team from the committee and some representatives of the DDLAF.

“It was found that even though the WBSEDCL had installed meters in the houses, there was no electric supply,” the DDLAF secretary said.

After the visit, the residents submitted a mass petition demanding power supply to the DDLAF, which took it up with the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and the West Bengal Human Rights Commission in Calcutta.

Representatives of the DDLAF and local people appeared before the commission and the SLSA where the case was heard.

“We also pursued the case in a circuit bench of the state human rights commission in Siliguri. Around 100 residents of Girja Line were present at the hearing,” Sarkar said.

Both the bodies ordered the chairman of the WBSEDCL to extend electricity supply to the affected families.

“Although the direction was given back in 2011, the WBSEDCL took time in executing it. We had to take up the matter again. Finally, the residents of Girja Line got electricity in February this year,” Sarkar said.

On April 10, the residents organised a programme.

“They celebrated the occasion. They had invited members of the subdivisional judiciary and also the DDLAF. All those present were felicitated by the residents of the garden,” Sarkar said.

Ajay Kumar Das, the additional district and sessions judge (first court) of Siliguri and chairperson of the subdivisional legal services committee and Sridhan Su, civil judge (senior division), Siliguri, attended the programme with others.

The judges spoke on the free legal assistance process and justice accessibility programme and apprised the tea garden workers and their families as to how to get justice through the alternative dispute redressal mechanism, Sarkar said.

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / by The Telegraph Correspondent / Saturday – April 23rd, 2016

An indigo planters’ journals

Jenny Balfour-Paul with Bappaditya Biswas at Kolkata Literary Meet on January 24. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
Jenny Balfour-Paul with Bappaditya Biswas at Kolkata Literary Meet on January 24. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray

“It was serendipity,” said Jenny Balfour-Paul about how he chanced upon Thomas Machell’s journals in the British Library. She was speaking at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, in association with the Victoria Memorial and The Telegraph on January 24.

Balfour-Paul’s book, Deeper than Indigo, based on these journals, seemed to her like a natural progression from her earlier works. For, it was indigo that lured her to Machell and shaped the 15 years of her life that she spent pursuing his trail.

Machell was a midshipman in the merchant navy and an indigo planter. He had travelled on an Arab ship dressed as an Arab and read the Bible to strict Muslims. He was taken aback at how much they had in common. Machell’s plea for religious tolerance is much more relevant now than it was in his times, said Balfour-Paul.

Balfour-Paul objects to her obsession with Machell being called a love affair across time. Yet, she seemed quite taken when it was pointed out that the Bengali translation of her book’s title, Ghana Shyam, not only means the darkest blue but is also another name for Krishna, bringing to mind an image of Radha and the themes of separation and union.

“It was a compulsion to know more about Machell and his spiritual search” that led Balfour-Paul to follow his path. Machell would love the way the world is connected at present, said Balfour-Paul, adding that had he been around he would probably have been quite active on Twitter.

Machell was ahead of his time in his empathy for the “natives” and his “criticism of colonialism”. His journals bear witness to him repeatedly “grappling with his conscience”. Machell, when he wrote the journals, only wanted to be heard. Balfour-Paul recalled how when she came across the first draft of the book, she shouted to the sea: “I’ve got you out there now.”

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> Calcutta> Story / by Srimoyee Bogchi / Tuesday – March 08th, 2016

India’s only double coconut tree artificially pollinated

The palm species bears largest seed known to science

A double coconut tree stands at the Indian Botanical garden at Shibpur in Howrah district.— Photo: Sanjoy Ghosh
A double coconut tree stands at the Indian Botanical garden at Shibpur in Howrah district.— Photo: Sanjoy Ghosh

Scientists at the Indian Botanical Garden in West Bengal’s Howrah district have carried out artificial pollination of the only double coconut tree in India, which bears the largest seed known to science.

One of the rare and globally threatened species of palm, the double coconut ( Lodoicea maldivica ) tree was planted at the botanical garden in 1894 and the artificial pollination is a result of decades of work by scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).

“The tree took almost a hundred years to mature and when it started flowering, we started looking for this particular palm species in this part of world. We collected some pollen from palms from Sri Lanka but could not successfully pollinate it. Finally, with the help of pollen from another tree in Thailand, the pollination process was successful,” BSI Director Paramjit Singh told The Hindu .

Longest surviving palm

The Double Coconut tree not only bears the largest seed known to science — weighing around 25 kg — but this unique species is also the longest surviving palm which can live for as long as 1,000 years, he says. The palm tree also bears the largest leaf among palms and one leaf can thatch a small hut.

“Successful pollination means that we can have another Lodoicea maldivica in the country. In fact we have two fruits and it might take them another couple of years to mature,” said S.S. Hameed, BSI scientist who has been working on the pollination project since 2006.

This species of palm is diecious (where male and female flowers are borne on different plants). “Fortunately at the Botanical Garden, we had the female plant which can fruit and produce seeds,” Mr. Hameed said. The Indian Botanical Garden which serves as the repository 12,000 trees from 1,400 different species is careful in nurturing the palm.

The palm tree is located in the large palm house of the Botanical Garden which has the largest collection of palms in South East Asia with around 110 palm species.

This rare tree can be found in only two of the 115 Seychelles islands and is also called Coco de Mer (coconut of the sea), says Mr. Hameed


Legend bestows the seed with the power to bring good fortune to its owners. “There has also been a tradition of making kamandals [drinking vessels] from the double coconut by bisecting the shell. It was believed that those who consume water from these kamandals will be protected from poisoning,” Mr. Hameed said. Subsequently, sadhus started using Kamandals and it got its place in religious rituals.

source: / The Times of India / Home> National / by Shiv Sahay Singh / Kolkata – June 13th, 2015

New start for grand lady – Descendants rededicate gravestone of botanist

Lady Emma addresses the small gathering at the ceremony to dedicate the gravestone of her ancestor, Lady Anne Monson, at South Park Street Cemetery on Thursday morning. With her are Michael Dorrien Smith, Lady Emma Windsor-Clive, Isabella Monson (seated) and JM Robinson and James Miller (wearing panama).  Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Lady Emma addresses the small gathering at the ceremony to dedicate the gravestone of her ancestor, Lady Anne Monson, at South Park Street Cemetery on Thursday morning. With her are Michael Dorrien Smith, Lady Emma Windsor-Clive, Isabella Monson (seated) and JM Robinson and James Miller (wearing panama).
Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

Calcutta :

Sleepy, leafy South Park Street Cemetery could have turned into a scene from the TV series Downton Abbey on Thursday morning as a small group of Englishmen and women gathered at the twin graves of Lady Anne Monson and her second husband, Colonel George Monson, for a quiet and solemn ceremony as a chorus of koels sang incessantly.

The frail, behatted Lady Emma Monson was with her granddaughter Isabella, her friend, the youthful Michael Dorrien Smith, a descendant of Lord Clive – Lady Emma Windsor-Clive – and two friends, architectural historian J.M. Robinson and art historian James Miller.

Lord Clive was a British officer who defeated Siraj-ud-Doula in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and consolidated the East India Company’s rule.

Lady Emma was there to dedicate a tombstone inscription to her ancestor, Lady Anne Monson, who was a botanist, an exceptional figure in the 18th century, and great granddaughter of King Charles II.

Charles II, king of Great Britain and Ireland (1660-85), was restored to the throne after years of exile during the Puritan Commonwealth, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. The years of his reign are known in English history as the Restoration period.

The genus Mansonia was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in honour of Lady Anne. Colonel Monson was a member of the Supreme Council of Calcutta and an enemy of Warren Hastings. He died six months after his wife in September 1776. An inscription above his tomb was erected in 1908 by the Calcutta Historical Society. But Lady Anne’s tomb remained without an inscription. Both graves are quite nondescript by the monumental standards of this cemetery.

A wreath was laid on the spruced-up grave and newly inscribed tombstone by Ranajoy Bose, executive member, Christian Burial Board, with Ash Kapur, president of the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, Bertie Da Silva, vice-principal of St. Xavier’s College, and Christina Mirza, who heads the English department of the college. Lady Emma said in her address that when she first visited Calcutta in 2012, both graves were in ruins and she wished to restore them. So she got in touch with the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA).

She thanked all concerned for refurbishing them. Both graves have been restored by an accredited architect and its surroundings have been cleared and neatly marked with brick dust. The service was conducted by Reverend Nigel Pope, vicar of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / A Staff Reporter / Saturday – February 14th, 2015

In six decades, Santhals have turned away from agriculture

The Santhal community is celebrating a festival at Bhalukshole village in Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
The Santhal community is celebrating a festival at Bhalukshole village in Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Study conducted by Anthropological Survey of India.

Research undertaken by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) has pointed to a shift in the socio-economic and cultural life of tribal communities like the Santhals over the past few decades.

A recent study conducted by the AnSI at Kuotala village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, has revealed that in six decades the economy of the village has shifted from agriculture to one of menial work. Most of the men from the village now work as daily labourers, rickshaw pullers, gardeners and caretakers at private residences. The women are engaged as maids in the various households in the region.

Interestingly, a seminal work on the Santhals of the village by Nabendu Datta Majumdar titled ‘The Santhal — A study in cultural change,’ based on the research he carried out in the 1950s, clearly states that the tribal society was primarily agrarian.

“The principal economic activities of the Santhals of Kuotala and adjoining villages are agriculture, hunting, fishing, rearing of domestic animals and day labour. Agriculture is the chief source of livelihood…” the book published in 1956 stated.

“However, now, the village economy has transformed with the rise in demand for cash in hand at the end of the day. Menial work in various developmental activities run by government or non-government organisations is being sought after by the villagers of Kuotala,” Shyamal Kumar Nandy, Research Associate, AnSI, Kolkata told The Hindu.

Along with the economic activities a change has also come about in the cultural and religious practices of the tribals. While Mr. Majumdar’s book clearly referred to a strict hierarchical order in the society, headed by a chief known as Manjhi, the latest research points to a weakening of the social structure among the Santhals.

“Some members of the community are not willing to hold the post of the Manjhi as they feel that they will have to devote a lot of time to community activities and not be able to make sufficient money,” Mr. Nandy said.

The researchers have come across an instance where the Jaherthan or the sacred grove of the Santhal community had to be shifted because of construction work carried out by the Visva Bharati, Kakuli Chakraborty, head of office, Eastern Regional Centre of (AnSI) told The Hindu.

Jaherthan — a cluster of trees — is considered by the Santhals to be the abode of their principal deities.

According to the publication of Mr. Majumdar, Kuotala dates back to 1865, long before the central university was set up, when a few immigrant Santhal families from the Santhal Parganas had settled there.

According to the book, in 1938, the land in and around Kuotala and the adjoining Santhal villages were purchased by Visva Bharati from the local zamindar of Surul and the Santhals automatically became the tenants of Visva Bharati.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> National> Other States / by Shiv Sahay Singh / Kolkata – February 05th, 2015