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Darjeeling tea exports dip, importers bank on leaves from Nepal

Darjeeling: A cloud of uncertainty has shrouded the world famous Darjeeling tea with exports having gone down along with production.

Importers are preferring Nepal tea to Darjeeling.

About 60 to 65% of Darjeeling is exported. After the 2017 political unrest, in 2018 exports came down by 22%. Even in 2019 the figures were down by 22%. Germany and Japan are the two largest exporters of Darjeeling.

"Darjeeling tea has a niche global market. However, Darjeeling supplies are found to be unreliable for global consumers. There are many reasons for this including political upheavals. Nepal tea has been filling the gap," stated Sandeep Mukherjee, Principal Advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA.)

On the production front the condition is the same.

"In 1995 the annual production of Darjeeling was to the tune of 14 million kg. In 2017 owing to the political unrest and the 105 day long bandh, production stood at 3 million kg. In 2018 the production stood at 7.5 million kg," Mukherjee said.

The Darjeeling tea industry consists of 87 gardens on which around 80,000 workers and their family members are dependent.

"The Government failed to focus on the Darjeeling tea industry during the 2017 political unrest. Around 50% workers migrated during this period the brunt of which is being felt by the gardens till date. There is a manpower shortage. Plucking cannot be held in 25% of the land under tea owing to lack of workforce," stated the Principal Secretary. He stated that the Government and the Tea Board has not done much for the Darjeeling Tea Industry.

"During the 2017 agitation even after the more than three months of bandh following by another three months of non production we had requested the Union Government for a Rs. 300 Crore package to make up for the loss including payment of wages, salary and PF of the workers. This package would bail out the ailing Darjeeling tea industry. However the Union Government did not do anything to get the industry back on its feet," said Mukherjee.

Recession that has engulfed the whole country has also cast a deep shadow on the tea industry.

"We have been time and again requesting the Union Government for shifting the tea from the present Ministry of Commerce and Industries to Agriculture. This would enable us to get the benefits of various schemes under agriculture. However, our plea has fallen to deaf ears. Such is the uncertainty revolving around the Darjeeling tea industry that even banks do not want to extend loans," stated Mukherjee.

The Principal Secretary of the DTA stated that under these conditions it would be impossible for the industry to pay the 20% bonus as demanded by the trade unions.

"Even if we pay 8.33% bonus under these conditions it will not be illegal," said Mukherjee.

A bonus meeting held on August 30 had failed. The next meeting is scheduled to be held this week. Last year the annual bonus percent stood at 15 percent.

The DTA Principal Advisor appealed to the unions to cooperate with the Management rather than hold gate meetings and bandhs. "A law and order situation will further complicate and aggravate matters" stated Mukherjee.

Out of the 87 gardens, 3 gardens are closed.

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