EOI, DARJEELING, 14 Jul 2016: The Darjeeling Tea Association today brought to the notice of President Pranab Mukherjee the negative impact on Darjeeling tea by the influx of Nepal tea even as it appealed to the Centre to amend the Indo-Nepal Free Trade Agreement.

The association, which held its annual general meeting today in Darjeeling, had invited President Mukherjee, West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration chief executive Bimal Gurung.
DTA chairman Sheo Shankar Bagaria said, “Unfortunately, tea from neighbouring Nepal is imported under the Indo-Nepal Free Trade Agreement and sold to unsuspecting
Indian consumers in the retail loose tea market. The tea is imported at very low prices. The tea industry of the neighbouring country is mostly in the unorganised sector. Unlike the Indian tea industry, which provides permanent employment and has social commitments, the wages of the workers in Nepal are lower than 50 per cent to what is given here.”
Bagaria pointed that the imported low priced orthodox tea was affecting the demand and prices of Darjeeling tea, thereby affecting the long term sustainability of the heritage Darjeeling Tea Industry. “We understand there is an ongoing negotiation on the Indo-Nepal Free Trade Agreement which will come up for renewal in 2017. We appeal to the Union Government to take necessary steps to amend the Indo-Nepal Free Trade Agreement to not allow the import of orthodox variety of tea so that the Intellectual Property Rights of the famed Darjeeling Tea is protected,” the DTA chairman said.
The first planting of Darjeeling tea took place in 1835 as an experiment, and by the early 1900s, industrial plantation had started, and today it is the country’s first registered Global Indicator and the first Indian product to be recognised as a PGI in the European
Union. Darjeeling tea is protected as Darjeeling Protected Certified Trade Mark Scheme (CTM) since the year 2000 and receives legal protection in more than 50 countries.
The Darjeeling tea industry is the main economic activity of the area followed by tourism. It proudly provides employment to approximately 60,000 permanent workers and about 40,000 seasonal workers. “The total Darjeeling tea plantation area is a proud home to more than 4 lakh people, which is about 50 per cent of the population of the hills. We are proud that the Darjeeling tea industry is the most environment friendly Industry. About 55 per cent of Darjeeling tea is certified organic and more are under conversion. The Darjeeling tea industry adheres to the best global food safety regulations,” said Bagaria.
He said the Darjeeling tea industry was being affected by climate change resulting in drastically reduced yields. “Darjeeling tea’s highest production was 14 million kg in 1991. Today, the annual production is 8.7 million kg. This is a situation of climate chaos as drought like conditions and excess rainfall is experienced to affect the premium first flush,” Bagaria said.
The DTA has sought the assistance of both the central and state governments for the tea industry to survive the dark days ahead. “The central government can make available advanced climate predictions from ISRO. We also want a focused research on tea plants which are weather resistant and research for top soil rehabilitation,” Bagaria said.
The association has also demanded the restoration of the Visesh Krishi and Gram Udyog Yojana (VKGUY) that has been withdrawn by the central government. “The Union Government has withdrawn the export incentive scheme VKGUY under which exports of organic tea were extended an incentive of 7 per cent of the export value. We appeal to the Union commerce ministry for restoration of the VKGUY scheme,” said the DTA chairman.
President Mukherjee said of all tea varieties, Darjeeling tea occupies a unique place with the connoisseur and applauded the DTA’s effort to sustain it. “I deeply appreciate the work being done by the DTA to keep Darjeeling tea at the highest standards with support of the central and state governments. You are doing a great job, keep it up,” he said.
The GTA chief executive also asserted the need for the government to take proactive steps to stop the influx of Nepal tea, which he said was having an adverse affect on not only the industry but also the workers.