PALAMPUR: The tea industry in Kangra valley is passing through a serious crisis these days. Tea growers are finding it very difficult to maintain their tea plantations as there is no buyer for their produce. The prices of input and labor components have almost gone doubled in past three years but the prices of made tea in the national and international markets has come down by thirty to fifty percent since government of India has singed WTO agreement. Tea made in India has failed to compete with the tea made in African countries, Sri Lanka and China. In these countries the production cost of tea is mush less than the tea produced in India. Though in past few years the tea growers in the valley has made all efforts to improve the quality of tea manufactured to compete in the international market but because of high production cost only few buyers had come forward to buy the Kangra tea.
Because of crisis in the tea industry the area under tea is squeezing day by day. Thanks to the apathy of the state government who had failed to initiate any steps for the revival of century old Kangra valley tea industry. Number of tea growers in Baijnath, Bir and Chauntra area has abandoned their tea gardens as there is no buyer for their green tea leaves.
The cooperative tea factories set up by the state government in cooperative sector at Bir, Baijnath, Sidhwari and Palampur have failed to watch the interest of small tea growers. Political interference, rampant corruption and continuous irregularities had virtually ruined these cooperative units in the valley. Despite the fact that state government provided adequate financial assistance, but these units could not come out of red and faced losses in crores. The cooperative tea factories set up Bir, Baijnath and Sidhwari in this district have been closed and now the new owners in private sectors have taken over these units.
State government had imposed complete ban on the sale of tea holdings in Himachal Pradesh. This step has been initiated by the government because of the fact that the big tea growers have availed the benefit of H.P. Land Sealing Act. 1970 and they were allowed to retain excess land than the prescribed limit of 30 acres under the H.P. Land sealing Act. But it is very strange that the state government has also imposed ban on the tea holding of the all the tea growers including those who had not availed the benefit of H.P. Land Sealing Act and are having tea holding less than 30 acres. In present circumstances and in the hours of crises the tea growers are helpless and cannot sell even an inch of tea holding without the permission of state government. What is happening today, the big tea growers have succeeded to get the permission for the sale of their tea holdings but small tea growers who had not availed the benefit of land sealing act have been moving from pillar to post to get the permission and virtually have become the victims of middlemen. State government has no set policy in this regard and tea growers having political push are getting permission for the sale of their lands under tea plantation.
The areas which were under tea till yesterday are being replaced with housing colonies, hotels, tourist resorts, shops and other religious places etc. The state government has become silent spectator.
The tea has been cultivated and manufactured in Kangra valley since the middle of last century. It was first introduced between 1830 and 1840, by the European Tea Planters, known as Nissan Tea Company. The valley grows the hybrid China tea known to be rich in flavor and compares favorably with the tea grown in other parts of the world.
In the early years the tea industry flourished very well in the valley because of suitable agro-climatic conditions and availability of plenty of land for the tea cultivation. The tea seed imported from China responded well in the valleyâ€™s prodozolic grey soil with PH of about 5.4. Perhaps very few people knew that the Kangra tea was awarded gold medal at an exhibition in London in 1886. Until 1905, the Kangra tea was rated finest in the world for its flavor and quality.
Kangra earthquake of 1905, proved fatal for the Kangra tea, when it destroyed large number of tea gardens, several tea factories were destroyed and number of tea planters were killed. The then British administration declared the valley as unsafe zone and almost all the European Tea Planters left the valley after selling their plantations to Indians. This is not the end of miseries of Kangra tea industry, it received another set back in 1914 after the out brake of First World War. Many people joined the army and labour availability further adversely affected and tea prices started falling which further discouraged and demoralized the surviving tea planters.
Later the fragmentation of states started, now new plantation was done and the stage came when there was state of complete neglect. The tea a cash crop which was more remunerative till yesterday started replacing. There was virtually no buyer for the Kangra tea in the market. The two Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971 further hit the Kangra tea as it lost its Afghanistan market in the wake of hostilities among the two countries.
After 1971, The Himachal Pradesh government made little efforts for the revival of Kangra tea industry but it yielded no fruitful results in the absence of political and administrative will. Though the state government set up four tea manufacturing and marketing units in cooperative sector at Bir, Baijnath, Palampur and Dharmshala but today only one unit is functional while the remaining three units have been sold to private parties because of incurring losses year after year. The capital employed over ten crores by the state government had come down to zero today. Lots of irregularities has been reported in the functioning of these units and number of its employees and directors has been facing criminal cases today.
In papers the total area under tea is 2060 hectares with a total production of 1.3 millions Kilograms of made teas. The average production is 578 Kg. of made tea per hectare as against of 800 kg. In Assam – Darajling and 1742 Kg. at national level.
Tea garden of the Kangra valley attracts lakh of tourists every year. Palampur which is famous for its scenic beauty also known as tea town of the state. Unfortunately the state government had failed the exploit the tourist potential of this town.
Photo by Calinore.