Glorious past, future tense: Grim story of tea from Kangra : The Tribune India

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Glorious past, future tense: Grim story of tea from Kangra

Glorious past, future tense: Grim story of tea from Kangra

Pluckers working in a tea plantation of Kangra. FILE PHOTO



Ravinder Sood

Palampur, April 9

Tea has been cultivated and manufactured in Kangra valley since the middle of the 19th century. Tea was first planted here between 1830 and 1840 by European tea planters, their firm known as the Nissan Tea Company.

Hybrid China tea, known to be rich in flavour, is grown across the valley and compares favourably with the tea grown in other parts of the world.

In the early years, the tea industry flourished in the valley because of suitable agro-climatic conditions and the availability of plenty of land for tea cultivation. Tea seed imported from China responded well in the valley’s podzolic grey soil with PH of about 5.4. In 1886, the Kangra tea was awarded gold medal at an exhibition in London. Until 1905, the Kangra tea was rated finest in the world for its flavour and quality.

The Kangra earthquake of 1905 proved fatal for tea production, when a large number of tea gardens were destroyed, several tea factories were razed to earth and a number of tea planters were killed. The administration then declared the Kangra valley as an unsafe zone and almost all the European tea planters left the valley after selling their plantations to Indian growers.

This, however, was not the end of miseries of the Kangra tea industry, for it received another setback in 1914 during the World War I, when young men in large numbers joined the Army, adversely affecting the availability of labour.

The situation discouraged and demoralised the surviving tea planters.

Later, the fragmentation of the states started, and the tea plantations were in a state of complete neglect and tea, which was more remunerative till yesterday, started getting replaced with other crops. The two Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971 further hit the Kangra tea as it lost its Afghanistan market in the wake of the hostilities among the two countries.

Once popular in Europe, Central Asia, Australia, and even Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Kangra tea has lost its flavour and production in recent years. The annual production has come down to 9-10 lakh kg as against 17-18 lakh kg a few decades ago. In 2013, the annual production was 10.49 lakh kg, but it came down to 9 lakh kg from 2014 to 2018. In 2019, the production increased to 9.54 lakh kg, and then 10.87 lakh kg in 2020. In 2021 and 2022, the production remained below 10 lakh kg, only to cross the mark last year. Today, around 1,400 hectares of land is under tea cultivation, up from 1,100 hectares a few years ago.

Earlier, plantations were not properly maintained because of labour issues. With the advent of mechanisation (plucking machine, pruning machine) during 2014-15, the growers let out a sigh of relief as they were now able to maintain their estates. The area which had been abandoned earlier due to labour shortage was now planted and tea leaves are being plucked there with mechanical harvesters.

Before 2001, the government has been extending technical and financial support to the planters. The growers were getting various subsidies on fertiliser, equipment, and pesticides, etc. However, after 2001, the subsidies were discontinued. The government’s masterplan to revive abandoned tea gardens remained confined to the files, a big setback to the industry.

As tea cultivation is no more a profitable venture, the areas which were under tea plantation are being replaced by housing colonies, hotels, tourist resorts and shops.

#China #Kangra #Palampur


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