New Delhi: Once a favourite of tea connoisseurs across the world, Kangra tea is today fighting a battle for survival due to market fluctuations and low returns and cultivators from the region are seeking government intervention to save the industry.
Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, which is the only place in India cultivating the original ‘China bush´ has been witnessing declining production over the years. The declining price has not helped tea planters of the valley either.
“Production has gone down to 0.8 million kg in 2006 from 1.7 million kg in 1999, while prices have crashed to as low as Rs90 a kg in 2006,” says Kangra Small Tea Planters Association president K G Butail.
As per records, in 1995, a kg of Kangra tea was sold at Rs525 and last year total turnover of Kangra was about Rs6 crore, half of what it was in 1998.
“The industry needs a one-time financial package of Rs20 crore. This will help reopen sick units and will create at least four times the current employment,” he added.
Most of the produce from Kangra valley is sent to auction houses in Kolkata, where it competes with Darjeeling tea among others for high rates. The additional freight cost has not helped Kangra tea’s cause, he added.
Butail said declining area under cultivation and small holdings have also lead to lower output. Total area under tea plantation is 2,300 hectares and 80% of the holdings are less than one hectare.
“Consequently, planters are unable to supply the large quantities required for export and thus it is sold only through the Kolkata auction centre,” Butail added.
He also said putting tea under agriculture, which was earlier classified as an industry, had caused immense harm.
When tea was earlier treated as an industry, planters benefited from financial packages announced periodically, Tea Board India member Joginder Butail said.
In Himachal Pradesh over 14,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in tea cultivation, processing and transportation. If more area comes under tea and there is some investment in the sector the number of jobs will easily double or triple.