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Tripura to plant tea on No Man’s Land along Bangladesh border

The State-owned Tripura Tea Development Corporation (TTDC) is planning to put up tea plantations on “No-Man’s Land” all along the State's 839 km border with Bangladesh.

Large fertile tracts in No-Man’s Land on this border are already being cultivated by Indian farmers. But Bangladeshis often take away the harvest stealthily at night, the local say.

"They can take away paddy or vegetables but they cannot take away tea leaves because that needs processing in factories. There are no tea factories on the border," said TTDC chairman Santosh Saha.

When asked about possible security objections from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), Saha said that tea bushes are low plants which will not hinder the line of sight for vigil by the border guards.

"I know we can't plant crops because they will be stolen and big trees will obstruct visibility. Tea bushes are low and the Bangladeshis can't steal it because there's no factory to process the tea,” Saha told South Asian Monitor.

He said that about 300 km of the border with the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh may be unsuitable for planting tea.

“But even if we can plant tea on No-Man’s Land along the 500 km border with Bangladesh's plainareas like Sylhet, Noakhali, Comilla and Chittagong, we are talking of thousands of hectares under tea,” Santosh Saha said.

Tripura is hard pressed to find arable land for cultivation because two-thirds of the state's land area are hilly and undulating, he explained.

When asked if it was possible to cultivate lands on No Man’s Land, former BSF Inspector General Suresh Dutta said: " No human habitation is allowed in the zone, no big trees are also allowed because of security considerations, But many whose lands fell in that zone before partition, are allowed to cultivate paddy and vegetables. BSF strictly controls movements into the No Man’s Land through gates in the fence."The TTDC will soon seek necessary clearances from relevant authorities and set up Panchayat-level cooperatives to plant tea on these lands, its chairman Santosh Saha disclosed.

Saha said much of the tea grown here may be finally exported to Bangladesh where there is a shortfall of 6.5 million kg.

"This is the nearest foreign market for us. It can get our growers better prices than they get in tea auctions in Guwahati and Calcutta," he said.

"And our Chief Minister has proposed export of Tripura tea to Bangladesh.”

Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb has opposed extending the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to Tripura in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forums and said that the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is not needed in Tripura because Tripura is the only State in India where citizenship cards have been issued to all citizens in the last sixty years.

The Tripura Chief Minister has his roots in Chandpur in Bangladesh and a part of his extended family is still there.

In a recent seminar in Assam’s capital Guwahati, Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said: “Deb's body is in India but his heart is in Bangladesh.”When asked if he was embarrassed by the comment made before an Assamese audience, Deb was unfazed.

"I advocate the best of relations with Bangladesh because it will not only benefit Tripura but the whole of the Northeast. We get access to the sea through Bangladesh and without that we cannot prosper," Deb told South Asian Monitor on December 28 on the sidelines of the popular Padma-Gomati festival organized by the Vanguard TV channel in Agartala to promote better understanding between Tripura and Bangladesh.

"Can India get a better friend than Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League?" Deb asked.

He said Prime Minister Narendra Modiis keen to settle the Teesta river water sharing deal with Bangladesh but West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjiis playing spoilsport.

"If she does not create problems, the deal can be done when Modiji visits Bangladesh this summer for the Bangabandhu anniversary. The draft has been ready since 2009 but Mamata has been raising new issues like giving water from other rivers," Biplab Deb said.