Speaking to India's oldest industry group, the Assam Tea Planters Association, in Kolkata, MGVK Bhanu issued a warning that a new code would enforce production and labour management regulations designed to invigorate quality and increase sustainability.
“I am sorry to say that the most gardens are not concentrating on producing quality tea and if this trend continues, it will be difficult for Indian tea to remain the preferred beverage in this competitive world,” he said.
“There will be strict regulations coming up soon to maintain quality and other aspects in tea production.”
He blamed current quality issues on plantations that had fallen behind in their focus on high-quality leaves. “Better quality leaf is essential to produce quality teas that will fetch good prices. Planters should ensure that they maintain the minimum residual content in the tea and should be careful while using chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” warned Bhanu.
The new set of regulations will come into force after the July 11 release of a sustainability code for tea – a joint initiative by the Tea Board and certification bodies such as the Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Trade Initiative.
Bhanu also blamed plantations for ignoring the welfare of workers, something the code will seek to address.
“The industry can no longer treat the labour force as they did a hundred years ago and all necessary steps should be taken for their welfare,” he said. “Gardens not having full time labour welfare officers would be penalised as soon as the new set of rules are enforced.”
Meanwhile, Paban Singh Ghatowar, the Union minister responsible for the development of India’s northeast, the location of most of the country’s plantations, has slammed the lack of research and development by the tea industry at its main research centre in Tocklai in Assam.
“The Tocklai Experimental Station has not been able to meet the aspirations of the industry,” he stormed. “Though it has come up with a few tea clones, there haven’t been any path-breaking achievements by Tocklai.”