ANI Photo | As tea industry sinks, Darjeeling looking for alternate sources of income

The tea industry in Darjeeling has been a major contributor to its economy, but recently there has been a reduction in the export of tea and the industry’s income.
Subashish Roy, who is a manager at the Arya Tea Estate in Darjeeling opened up on the situation there.
“On record, there are 87 tea Gardens that are GI protected and out of total production 40 per cent is exported while 60 per cent is sold within the country and out of this 50 per cent is also exported by the merchants. Exports are the basic income for this industry,” Roy told ANI.
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He further said that 50 per cent of the revenue is made by the March and April plantation which is the first flush and the best in quality but recently there has been a decline in the production of Darjeeling tea.
When asked about the reasons for such condition of the industry, he said, “One reason is that for the last 10-15 years at least 90 per cent of the production of Darjeeling tea has become organic and after being organic it has gone down by 30 per cent itself.”
“The second reason being, the age-old bushes, these bushes are at least 100 years old which has reduced the production,” he said, adding that the third reason is weather conditions.
“The weather condition has changed remarkably and what weather we used to have twenty years back, we do not have it now. When there is rain then there is continuous rain or else there is no rain at all and we face drought conditions,” he said.
The Arya Tea Estate manager also termed the challenge from Nepal tea and the shortage of plantation workers as the reason for the decline in production.
“From the point of view of marketing, Darjeeling tea is facing a big challenge from Nepal tea. Countries like Europe where we used to export tea have also started buying from Nepal and it also comes to India and sometimes it is appealing to the administration also,” Roy further said.
“The industry is also facing a shortage of tea plantation workers. This industry has always been generation-wise employment, now the new generation doesn’t want to work so workers are scarce,” he added.
Several tea plantation workers also expressed their concern over low wages.
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When ANI reached out to some tea plantation workers for a better understanding of their condition, they expressed their concern over low wages.
Chnalti Gurung, a tea plantation worker told ANI, “We like to work but the wages are not good. The tea is sold for high prices but we do not get anything major. We expect at least Rs 500 as daily wage.”
Another tea plantation worker, Usha Gurung also expressed her concern over daily wages.
“We have been told several times that the wage will be increased but it is still the same. We expect at least Rs 500 as daily wage,” he added.
Regarding the concerns raised by tea plantation workers, Subashish Roy said that currently, they get Rs 250 as their daily wage which has been fixed by the government, while, earlier the wage used to be even below Rs 200.
Amid this slump, Roy said that the industry is looking for alternate sources of income, basically, tea tourism.
“The government has allowed the tea gardens in West Bengal for tea tourism in tea garden area. With their permission many tea Gardens have started it, they have renovated their old British Bungalows and are using it for commercial purposes. Many tourists have liked this idea and are willing to stay in the tea garden. Any income will ultimately benefit the tea industry’s health,” he said.
“If the production is increased, more workers come to work in the tea gardens and if the weather favours us, the industry can benefit, ” Roy added

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