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HindustanTimes Fri,24 Oct 2014

Gorkhaland agitation brews fear among global tea connoisseurs

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, August 21, 2013
First Published: 12:38 IST(21/8/2013) | Last Updated: 14:30 IST(21/8/2013)

The intensified battle for Gorkhaland has left tea-lovers across the world worried over the prospect of losing their favourite morning cuppa – a steaming hot cup of Darjeeling tea.

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The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is leading a fierce, no-holds-barred agitation for carving out a separate state for the Gorkhas out of the Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal.

And the long agitation has cast a shadow over export of Darjeeling tea to many parts of the world including the UK, Australia, China and Pakistan.

Over the last fortnight, at least three major dailies in the UK — The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Daily Mail — have carried articles expressing concerns of tea-lovers.

Newspapers in China, Australia, Pakistan and Gulf countries have also echoed the same concern.

“Britain’s breakfast tables could be a major casualty in the battle to create a new Gorkha state in India,” Dean Nelson wrote in the leading UK daily, The Telegraph, on Monday. While most of the tea estates are running despite the agitation, the UK daily has quoted GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, who has threatened to block supply of Darjeeling’s finest produce in order to create “bigger impact”.

GJM leaders are well aware that blocking supply of tea will catch the attention of the world, simply because Darjeeling tea is regarded as the champagne of all teas and its scarcity would raise concerns among discerning consumers in different countries.

Accordingly, they did not allow movement of tea from the gardens though they allowed the gardens to operate during the string of bandhs and self-imposed curfews from August 3 to August 19.

“Its fragrant, delicately flavoured leaves have enthralled Britain’s tea drinkers for generations, but stocks of Darjeeling tea are being threatened as India’s ethnic Gorkhas fight for a separate state in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal,” Maseeh Rahman and Sam Jones wrote in The Guardian on August 12.

The Guardian article also quoted Nick Gandon, the director of the UK-based Reginald Ames tea merchants and brokers, who said the action in Darjeeling would inevitably disrupt the market and lead to a rise in the price of the tea.

The likes of Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe second flush or Oolong are among the most famous and expensive tea available around the globe.

It was the British who introduced tea plantation in Darjeeling with stolen seeds from China.

More than six decades since independence the UK still remains one of the biggest markets for the 10-million kg Darjeeling tea produced each year.

Transport of tea from the gardens and factories have come to a complete halt since August 3.

While the tea gardens in the hills are open, Gorkhaland agitators have refused to let the produce move out of all the 74 operational gardens and factories.

Further, the factories are facing a fuel crunch.

What has added to the prospect of more trouble is the fact that the GJM was preparing for an economic blockade of the hills.

SS Bagaria, chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association, told HT, that UK residents might feel the actual shortage about a month later.

“Stockists and retailers in London still have stock to last for sometime. Even though dispensing tea from the gardens and factories has come to a halt, there is still a month’s stock in Kolkata,” he said.

A resident of UK, who did not want to be named, told HT on Tuesday that Darjeeling produces — in all its varieties — are still available in the retail tea shops, the Telegraph, UK, expressed concerns in another article that the price of Darjeeling tea might rise in the UK should the agitation continue for some time more.

An estimate says tea export brings Darjeeling more than £20 million a year, roughly 20,000 million in Indian rupee at present rates.


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