The announcement was made be Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the planning commission, who said that tea would be accorded national drink status by April 17, 2013.
He added that tea is being given this status as half of the tea industry labour comprises women and is the largest employer in the organised sector. “India is also the largest producer and consumer of black tea in the world.”
Ahluwalia made the announcement at the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Assam Tea Planters' Association (ATPA) – one of the three tea associations along with North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) and Bharatiya Chai Parishad – that had recently asked the government for reforms and subsidies.
Associations made national status recently
The groups told the government that the ten-year period up to 2007 was the worst for the Indian tea industry, which struggled with heavy losses and estate closures across the country.
Though the situation has improved since then, their submission outlined that in the current fiscal year, tea makers were again struggling with rising input costs of fertilisers, coal, gas, and electricity.
The trio also made a demand for the elevation of tea to ‘National Drink’ status by the central government, which the associations said would go a long way in the marketing of Indian tea domestically.
Indian tea makers have said before that the national status would help the drink sell more domestically, now that its traditional export markets like the UK are drinking less tea than before.
Indian exports dwindling, tea makers hope for domestic succor
Data from the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that by 2021, the UK would be consuming at least 15% less tea than they were consuming in 2006.
The FAO data said shipments of tea to the UK had touched an all-time high of 136,000t by 2006, from where it has been steadily declining to touch 119,200t at the end of 2010.
Even export data from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industries points to the downward trend, revealing that tea exports to the UK have gone down from 22 million kg in 2006 to 16m kg in 2011.
A tea estate manager however told FoodNavigatorAsia on the condition of anonymity that with the dwindling exports, the national status would be welcome for tea growers.
“Such an event normally does give a one time spurt to consumption of whatever the product maybe. I would guess tea sales would go up to. And that would help tea makers across the board. The trick would be to sustain this spurt,” he said.