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1 Aug 2017

Strike-hit tea plunges 90 per cent - Tea Board data show production decline in June; exporters fear taint on brand image

Avijit Sinha, TT, Siliguri, July 31: The production of Darjeeling Tea has plunged 90 per cent in June over the same month last year because of the Gorkhaland agitation, figures released by the Tea Board of India today showed.
The hills have been embroiled in turmoil ever since Darjeeling witnessed a pitched battle between police and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters on June 8. What added to the woes of the tea industry was a two-day strike called by trade unions over minimum wage earlier in June.
All 87 tea gardens in the hills that produce the renowned Darjeeling Tea have remained closed since June 15, the day the Morcha announced the indefinite agitation. In 2016, 8.13 million kilos of Darjeeling Tea were produced annually.
Planters had expressed fear they would suffer huge losses - the industry had already lost the second flush which accounts for 40 per cent of the annual revenue - because of the statehood agitation.
The data published by the Tea Board reaffirmed the apprehension today.
According to the Tea Board data, there has been a loss of 31 per cent in the first six months till June this year compared to the corresponding period last year.
"Till June this year, the tea production is behind by around 1 million kilos compared to the first six months of 2016. The loss in terms of production is more than a million (1.19 million) kilos in June alone," said a tea planter.
The representatives of tea planters' associations had earlier said they would lose further even if the strike was withdrawn.
"It will take at least a fortnight to clear the weeds which have grown in tea bushes. We need another seven to 10 days or even more to get fresh leaves that can be plucked, keeping in mind the quality of Darjeeling Tea. Only then will production resume. This means the industry will need a month from the day the strike is withdrawn to resume the production," a representative said.
But so far, there has been little indication of the strike being called off. This means more loss for the industry as the data of 2016 show that over 48 per cent of the total tea is produced between June and August.
"The loss will climb to 64 per cent if production for September is considered along with these three months. We have already lost June and July and there are no hints that the strike will be withdrawn immediately. If it continues even in August and is called off at the end of next month or in September, there will be a loss of 70 per cent of the total production," a planter said.
Tea exporters fear the loss will affect the brand of Darjeeling Tea.
"People have a penchant for Darjeeling Tea. Its non-availability for a long time poses a challenge for us. Many of our buyers are shifting to Nepal tea as there is no other option. If the impasse continues, it would be a tough task for us to bring them back to Darjeeling Tea. Altogether, it is a critical situation," a tea exporter based in Siliguri said.

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