TEA NEWS: T for tears

TEA NEWS: T for tears – that Bengal just doesn’t shed ?!!

Darjeeling Tea Workers - a problem of 'quality of life' & 'infrastructure needs' that Bengal failed to address and may now lose out on all benefits to come ?!! (Shubhyatra)

From The Statesman
By Subrata Chowdhury

30 July 2010: It is indeed a pity that Darjeeling’s tea industry is withering at such magnificent heights. And in this rigmarole, the plight of the women who procure the leaves continues to slide from bad to worse, says Subrata Chowdhury

DARJEELING and tea are two words that are synonymous. Mentioning one without reference to the other would amount to, well almost, sacrilege. Then again, ignoring the women who — with teething babies nestled to their chests and held fast by secure wrapping – pluck the verdant leaves which they then deposit in baskets on their backs that are secured by straps across their foreheads would be as inconsiderate.

The history of Darjeeling tea starts with the name of the avant-garde Dr Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service during the Raj. He was transferred from Calcutta, then capital of British India, to Darjeeling in 1839. Besides his medical practice, he had a fancy for phytogeny.

Aware of Darjeeling’s environment, which was conducive to growing tea, he tried scattered experiments over a year or so and then got hold of a handful of Camellia Sinensis seeds brought from China. In 1841, the first saplings of what would be the best aromatic tea in the world — Darjeeling Tea — sprouted. It took a few years time to cultivate this rare variety in and around Darjeeling and the British made a hay of it while a truant sun shone on this picturesque hill tract.

Like Scotch whisky that cannot be distilled without water that flows in Scottish rivers to give it that unique taste, Darjeeling tea, too, cannot be grown on any other slopes other than those in Darjeeling for that muscatel flavour and pale yellow pallor.

According to the Tea Board of India  “Darjeeling tea means tea which has been cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in tea gardens in the hilly areas of Sadar subdivision, only hilly areas of Kalimpong subdivision comprising Samabeong Tea Estate, Ambiok Tea Estate, Mission Hill Tea Estate and Kumai Tea Estate and Kurseong subdivision excluding the areas in jurisdiction list 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 31 and 33 comprising Siliguri subdivision of New Chumta Tea Estate, Simulbari and Marionbari Tea Estate of Kurseong Police Station in Kurseong subdivision of the district of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal, India.”

There are phases for harvesting these small tea leaves: the First Flush is harvested in mid-March after the spring rains, and has a gentle, very light colour, aroma and a mild astringency. The Second Flush is harvested in June and produces amber, full-bodied, muscatel-flavoured liquor. The Autumn Flush is harvested after the rainy season and has a somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but is fuller-bodied and darker in colour.

But the lifestyle of the women who pluck the leaves as they move up and down the slopes has not seen any improvement. Following in the foorsteps of their mothers and grandmothers, they toil from dawn to dusk with a short break just past noon to have a lunch of parched roti and sabji before returning home to prepare a meal for their families.

The wages they get are a mere pittance compared to the carbohydrates they burn stooping to their task for days together. And for fear of being retrenched, they remain silent and bear it all. While they keep filling their dokos (baskets) with the “golden leaves”, their joints take a pounding that poor wages cannot rectify.

The ironic denouement lies in the fact that for reasons best known to tea garden owners and the Tea Board, the GI-breed of this unique tea is no longer being able to catch up with the world market and, unlike the once booming profits, there are dreary losses that sometimes lead to random tea garden lockouts. And the political unrest and crippling bandhs don’t help matters.

It is indeed a pity that an industry with such a glorious history and with a platform to rule the business world is withering at such magnificent heights. And in this rigmarole, the plight of the women who procure the leaves continues to slide from bad to worse.

Tea Board asks state land dept to conduct survey in north Bengal – and now the panic, probably good if truly fair ?!!

From The Statesman

SILIGURI, 1 AUG, 2010: To obtain detailed reports on tea plantations and the exact number of working small tea planters in north Bengal, the Tea Board of India has asked the state’s land and land reforms department to conduct a thorough survey in this region.

The objective of this survey is to promote small tea plantations in this region by providing financial assistance to the small time planters by helping them to  form Self Help Groups (SHG).

According to Tea Board officials in Siliguri, the concerned department is carrying out the survey and the exact number of small planters and area of tea plantations will be available very soon.

At present the number of small tea planters is over 21350 and plantation area is over 90000 acres in four districts. Apart from Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, tea plantation has been extended in North Dinajpur remarkably and partly in Cooch Behar, the Tea Board officials said.

Though there are thousands of small tea planters, the number of SHGs is very low. According to the records of the Tea Board in Siliguri, only 53 SHGs had been formed in this region but at present only 34 of them are functioning actively.

“There are times, Tea Board officials face difficulties in implementing various benefit schemes for the small tea planters due to procedural problems arising out of the paucity of SHGs,”  Mr Rakesh Kumar, the assistant director of tea development of the Tea Board in Siliguri. said.

Although, a section of small tea planters has been able to form the groups, following the guidelines of the Central and state governments “some SHGs are working here actively. One of them is going to set up a tea factory, first of its kind in India, at Panbari in Jalpaigrui with the help of Tea Board of India.

To provide financial help from the bank, Tea Board is negotiating with the West Bengal State Cooperative and Agriculture Bank authority. Though the bank authorities have not yet agreed to sanction the loan, the matter is under progress,” said Mr Kumar.

The eligible SHG can have financial assistance for vehicles to transport tea leaves, bags for carrying leaves, leaf collection shed, leaf-weighing scale, tea pruning machine and others including  ‘revolving corpus fund’ scheme, he said.


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