Darjeeling Tea aka the Champagne of Teas is cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in certain hilly areas of Sadar, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Siliguri and Darjeeling at altitudes ranging from 600 to 2,000 meters. Its unique muscatel flavour comes due to the cool and moist climate, the soil, the rainfall and the sloping terrain. These natural factors give Darjeeling tea a distinction which is not found anywhere else in the world. Eventually, it was the first Indian product to be given GI tag in 2004-05.
Production Figures & Varieties
According to India Tea Association figures, Darjeeling tea production from 57 gardens in all stands roughly at 8.5 million kg or 0.7 per cent of India’s total production. Out of this, 6 million kilograms is exported. Since Darjeeling tea is produced via orthodox method, there are several varieties on the basis of the harvesting time such as first flush, second flush, autumnal flush etc.
The best export quality is first flush, which is harvested in March, immediately after the spring rains. Second flush is harvested in June. Monsoon and Autumnal rains are the last one and least exported. 90% export quantity is of Darjeeling tea is from First Flush. If there is some delay or deficiency in spring rains, the export trade of Darjeeling is affected. Such affect is seen in current year also.
There are two major issues related to Darjeeling tea. First is the challenge its facing from Nepal and second is related to the wages of the tea workers.
Challenge from Nepal Tea
So far, Darjeeling tea is world’s most expensive tea and has enjoyed its unique place. But in recent times, it’s facing stiff competition from Nepal tea grown in border areas of Nepal near Darjeeling. These areas have same geographical and topographical conditions as the Darjeeling and the quality, aroma of Nepal tea is somewhat similar to Darjeeling tea but is not lasting. However, it’s available at a price half than India’s Darjeeling tea.
Thus, Nepal tea is not only affecting the export prospects of Darjeeling tea but also have infiltrated into India’s domestic market. Thus, it’s giving tough competition to premium Darjeeling tea in the domestic market India also. Worse is that it is being sold as Darjeeling tea!
To stop this menace, although the Indian government has tightened import rules of tea; but the problem is that it’s really difficult to segregate the Darjeeling tea from Nepal tea at retailer level. Now, the Darjeeling Tea association demands the government to get all tea imports from Nepal to be registered with Tea board.
Problem of minimum wages
Currently, the wages of the Darjeeling tea workers is Rs. 95 per day. This price was fixed in 2011 after an agreement between the trade union and planter’s organizations. The tea garden trade unions had a demand to increase these wages and sync them with minimum wages act. Two largest tea garden trade unions viz. Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU) and Progress Tea Workers Union (PTWU) have been proactive in these agitations. Out of them DTDPLU is politically linked to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha while PTWU is linked to Adivasi Vikash Parishad. Both these thus have strong political backing.
Their main demand include land rights for team workers, implementation of minimum wages act in Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars and opening the closed tea gardens in Dooars. In April 2015, this wage was hiked to Rs. 122/- but the agitation continued. In September 2015; the central government has released a draft notification which suggests the states to offer Rs.321 as the minimum wage to workers. However the trade unions look at this draft sceptically.