Producers of Darjeeling tea heaved a sigh of relief after the Tea Board of India set aside its November 2021 notification and lifted the ban on blending of Indian teas with those imported.
On October 18, the Tea Board of India amended its earlier notification that had completely banned the blending of Indian teas enjoying the geographical indications (GI) tags with imported ones.
The earlier notification had a major impact as top Indian tea buyers of the Darjeeling tea had stopped buying it.
They used to buy the Darjeeling tea and mix it with other varieties to sell it at a cheaper rate in the Indian market, as the pure Darjeeling tea is expensive.
The ban, according to the Darjeeling tea planters, had left them in serious crisis as more than 12% of Darjeeling tea which used to be bought by a single corporate buyer prior to the ban imposition on the blending, was forced to be sold at distressed price.
As there were fewer takers of premium quality Darjeeling tea both in the auction and open market, the price dipped while the cost of production increased exponentially owing to the rise in wages and coal price.
Rishi Saria, director of Gopaldhara and Rohini tea estates said, “The export of Darjeeling tea is 3 to 4 million kg and the production stands at around 7 million kg per annum. Basically, close to 3 to 4 million kg has to be sold within India. The demand in the domestic market has gone down as buyers have found an alternative in Nepal tea.”
The ban on the blending of Indian teas enjoying GI tags with imported ones resulted in the major buyers dealing with blend teas to start procuring it from Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Nepal Tea produced in the climatic condition similar to Darjeeling hills and similar topography with less cost of production affecting the livelihood of Darjeeling tea planters.
The Tea Board of India’s notification of Tuesday will now let sellers blend Darjeeling tea with any other varieties, especially Nepal tea in their packs — as long as the end product does not claim to be an exclusive item covered by the GI label.
Most of the Darjeeling Tea planters feel this will have an immediate positive impact that will help the Darjeeling tea industry.
Anshsuman Kanoria, chairman of Indian Tea Exporters’ Association who is also the owner of Tindharia and Goomtee tea estates in Darjeeling hills said, “A major corporate house used to blend Darjeeling tea with Nepal tea. But they were not violating the GI Tag as they never claimed they were selling pure Darjeeling tea. I think the government wanted to protect Darjeeling tea, but unfortunately the November notification dealt a severe blow to the Darjeeling tea industry. It stopped the largest buyer of Darjeeling tea, from buying for a non-Darjeeling package. This resulted in the fall in the almost 12% sale of Darjeeling Tea and the prices of Darjeeling Tea crashed despite a huge shoot in the cost of production.”
“To protect Darjeeling Tea, we need an increase in demand and not a fall. Of course, we must protect GI and we must take action on free entry of Nepal tea into India, but this should not be at the cost of penalising genuine buyers who are actually supporting Darjeeling and who are not violating GI,” he added
Satish Mitruka, managing director of Nurbong Tea Estate and a member of Darjeeling Tea Association said, “We had been fighting for months and now we are seeing the result. After the largest buyer refrained from participating in auction and private sales of Darjeeling tea due to the November 2021 notification, there was a huge drop in the price of Darjeeling tea. Non organic Assam orthodox teas were selling at a higher price than Darjeeling organic tea. This had resulted in the Darjeeling tea industry on the verge of collapse.”
In 2021, the average auction and private price of Darjeeling tea was over ₹600 and in 2022, the price came down to around ₹400.
In 2021, the cost of production was between ₹550 to ₹600 when the daily wage was ₹202 and now the cost of production has increased by almost ₹100 as the wages have increased to ₹232 and the price of coal has also increased, said Mitruka.