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Posted at: Apr 16, 2017, 12:08 AM; last updated: Apr 16, 2017, 12:08 AM (IST)

Kangra tea vanishes as Himachal sleeps

Lalit Mohan in Dharamsala
Laws have been bent to sell land under tea cultivation. As a result, the tea production has drastically come down in Himachal
Kangra tea vanishes as Himachal sleeps
The state government has ignored suggestions to popularize Kangra tea. photo: kamaljeet
Things have come to such a pass that you might never get to taste Kangra tea. Known for its unique flavour and its own Geographical Indicator (GI), the variety is dying a slow death. According to Tea Board of India, Himachal had 4,000 heactares under tea cultivation in the 1960s and 70s. The area has now been reduced to 1,800 hectares. The production is down from about 1,700 quintals per annum to only about 800 quintals.

KG Butail, a leading tea farmer of Kangra and former president of the Palampur Tea Farmers Cooperative, says Kangra tea’s unique taste and aroma is due to the soil of the area. This has been proven by the studies conducted by scientists at the Institute of Himalayan Bio-resource Technology (IHBT), a CSIR centre at Palampur. 

Laws bent

Rakesh Kumar, a retired revenue official, says currently the land under tea farming in Kangra district was protected by laws of the Himachal Government. “One cannot divert land under tea plantations to other purpose. For doing that, one must get government permission. Even tea farmers cannot sell their land without government permission,” he said. 

But that’s what exists on paper. A government source says such laws have been bent to enable deras, hoteliers and developers to acquire land meant exclusively for Kangra tea cultivation.

Butail says the tea being produced by small farmers is being sold through cooperative societies directly in markets of Kolkata. “A Palampur tea factory pays Rs 10-Rs 14 per kg for plucked tea leaves. This is too less for small farmers who cannot even recover the cost. So, most of the processed Kangra tea is sold in Kolkata for about Rs 150 per kg,” said Butail.

Suggestions ignored

The state government has in the last few years ignored all suggestions. For instance, Butail says he had suggested the state government hold the tea sale for at least a year. “This would involve very small amount for the state government. But it will help the farmers in controlling the tea price.” The tea farmers of Kangra had requested the state government to provide them labourers under the national employment guarantee scheme (MNREGA). The government is yet to respond.

Commissioner Kangra division, Nandita Gupta, had proposed tea tourism, a suggestion well received by the farmers. But for that the state would have to frame a policy in consonance with the existing laws to protect the land under tea farming. Some cultivators demanded the state government allowed temporary structures in the tea garden to attract tourists. “If a tea garden becomes a tourist spot, then farmers would also be encouraged to retain them,” said a farmer. But again, the government is sitting tight over it.

Then, the Indian Institute of Himalayan Bio-resource Technology (IHBT), a CSIR centre, had developed processed products from Kangra tea such as soft drinks. But no processing unit has come forward to try the technology.

Rajiv Gupta, a Delhi-based businessman dealing in green tea, says he had suggested the state government to open exclusive kiosks offering Kangra tea across the country. “If foreign companies like Starbucks can sell their coffee in various parts of the world, why can’t Himachal offer its green tea across the country? The government has not responded to my proposal.”

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