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Tea needs national drink status to survive

All is not well with the tea industry. The reasons vary from shortage of labour, lack of mechanisation and market-induced losses leading to closure of several estates.

india Updated: Feb 26, 2012 20:14 IST
Rahul Karmakar

All is not well with the tea industry. The reasons vary from shortage of labour, lack of mechanisation and market-induced losses leading to closure of several estates.

Three major tea organisations in an SOS to the Parliament Standing Committee on Commerce on February 26 sought rejuvenation of the industry. They have accordingly suggested auction reforms and release of subsidies on time besides giving tea the ‘national drink’ status.

These three organizations are Assam Tea Planters’ Association, North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) and Bharatiya Cha Parishad.

“The 1999-2007 phase was harrowing for the tea industry leading to losses across the country and closure of several estates. The situation improved in 2008 but the 2011-12 fiscal saw prices dipping at the auctions. If that weren’t bad enough, cost of production spiraled owing to key inputs such as fertilizers, coal, gas, electricity, etc. becoming more expensive,” NETA president Bidyananda Barkakoty told HT.

The joint forum of the three tea organizations underscored the need for a robust electronic auction system following assessment by regulatory authorities. They also pointed out that delay in releasing subsidies announced by the government and Tea Board from time to time often negates the purpose.

“In Assam, the industry has overcome many crises in the last 180 years. But we are not equipped to overcome the crisis that we have already started facing – shortage of labour. We need a special project on mechanisation for developing user-friendly, economical machineries for harvesting, pruning and other activities,” Barkakoty said.

Other requirements to save the industry included branding and export promotion, value-addition on promotion of Indian brands, improving pace of tea plantation, opening of ‘chai bars’ across India to promote tea drinking and extending transport subsidy scheme to the industry.

“The elevation of tea as a national drink will go a long way in the industry getting the attention it deserves by virtue of being India’s most popular beverage,” an industry spokesperson said.