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Tea makers call for crisis cuppa with government

By Ankush Chibber , 28-Feb-2012

Indian tea makers have sent an SOS to the central government after a prolonged period of market losses and estate closures with an aim to rejuvenate the industry.

The cry for help comes from the country’s top three tea associations - the Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA), North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) and Bharatiya Cha Parishad -asked the government for reforms and subsidies. for

The groups told the committee that the ten year period up to 2007 was the worst for the Indian tea industry which struggled with heavy losses and estate closures.

Though the situation has improved since then, the submission outlined that in the current fiscal year, tea makers were again struggling with the input costs of fertilisers, coal, gas, and electricity going higher than ever before.

Shortage of labour biggest worry

The associations said the biggest concern was the shortage of labour. FoodNavigator-Asia talked to a tea estate manager who on the condition of anonymity revealed that most estates are running on half their manpower compared to a decade ago.

“Tea picking and the further processing of tea was until now a generational occupation. The trade was passed down generations. But now, with better economic avenues available, we are losing these skilled folks to cities,” he said.

The tea groups said the industry would now have to go for heavy mechanisation to survive, and it would be up to the government to support this change with subsidies and a friendly tax regime.

“A special project on mechanisation should be handed over a reputed institute to develop user-friendly, economical machineries for harvesting, pruning and other activities,” the submission said.

Tea, the national drink of India?

The groups added that the industry needed a robust electronic auction system for tea produce and also a faster release of subsidies that have already been announced.

The submission also contained other suggestions such as export promotion, value-addition on promotion of Indian brands, improving pace of tea plantation, and extending a transport subsidy scheme to the industry.

A demand was also made for the elevation of tea to the ‘National Drink’ status by the central government, which the associations said would go a long way in the marketing of Indian tea domestically.

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