During the annual general meeting of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) in Kolkata, the Tea Board of India said it had sought a special financial package of ₹1,000 crore from the Centre for the tea Industry over five years. Tea Board officials admitted that Indian tea had not been able to establish itself globally, and that one of its key brands, Darjeeling Tea, was under acute stress.
Why is it important to save Darjeeling Tea?
- Darjeeling Tea, called the ‘Champagne of Teas’, was the first Indian product to get the GI (Geographical Identification) tag in 2004 for its distinctive aroma and flavour.
- About 87 gardens in Darjeeling which employ about 55,000 workers produce approximately 7 million kg of tea, most of which is exported.
- According to insiders, over the past few months a lot of gardens in the hills have changed hands because the owners were reeling under higher costs of production and other issues.
What is the threat from Nepal’s gardens?
- A report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Ministry of Commerce said “unhampered and easy influx of substandard tea from neighbouring countries, especially Nepal” is jeopardising the tea industry of India.
- The document pointed out that inferior quality tea from Nepal was being imported, and then sold and re-exported as premium Darjeeling Tea.
- Under the Revised Treaty of Trade between the Governments of India and Nepal in October 2009, both parties had agreed to exempt from basic customs duty, as well as from quantitative restrictions, the import of mutually agreed primary products.
- Data from the Tea Association of India show that the total tea imported from Nepal in 2020-21 was 10.74 million kg; during the same period, the total tea import of India was pegged at 27.75 million kg.
- Industry experts said Nepal, which shares similar climatic conditions and terrain, produces tea at a lower price because of less input costs, particularly labour, and fewer quality checks. Even though the quality is no match, yet the tea from Nepal posed a serious challenge to Darjeeling Tea.
What are the other points of stress?
- The influx of tea from Nepal picked up pace in 2017, when the 107-day agitation and shutdown in the Darjeeling hills brought tea production to a halt.
- From June to September 2017, tea bushes in Darjeeling lay unattended during the agitation called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha over demand of a separate State of Gorkhaland. In 2017, the production of Darjeeling Tea hit a low of 3.21 million kg.
- Since a substantial market of Darjeeling Tea is exported, exporters switched to cheaper varieties of tea, including the imported variety from Nepal.
- Tea planters and industry experts admit that the tea industry in Darjeeling has not recovered from the damage it incurred in 2017.
Is climate change impacting production?
Industry experts say the decline in production is due to multiple factors, which include climate change, declining yields and high absenteeism among workers. Because of the hilly terrain of Darjeeling there is no land left for expansion of tea gardens.
What is the way forward?
- Planters in Darjeeling say unless the Government restricts the influx of tea from Nepal, Darjeeling Tea cannot be saved.
- The Standing Committee of Parliament has recommended that the Government “review and revisit the Indo-Nepal Treaty for incorporating stringent requirements for certificate of origin on tea imports from Nepal.” The committee suggested that Small Tea Growers (STGs) should also be recognised as GI-registered producers.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – The famous Darjeeling tea is suffering from double-whammy of climate change and cheap imports. Discuss how the situation is challenging for tea planters in Darjeeling and what can the government do about it?