Himachal to revive Kangra tea industry

Shimla, April 8 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Friday favoured adopting a multi-pronged project to revive the British-era Kangra tea industry.

Presiding over the state tea development board meeting here, he said there was a need to expand the tea cultivation area as it was shrinking drastically.

“Its cultivation will no more be profitable if the tea gardens are rejuvenated with the new plantation.”

The chief minister was apprised at the meeting that a lot of tea gardens were abandoned due to lack of adequate manpower.

Virbhadra Singh said he would take up the problems of the growers with the Tea board of India and would demand subsidy on tea plantation machinery, including the mechanical harvesting equipment, for the growers who do cultivation on less than 10 hectares.

On the suggestion of members to study the Uttarakhand Tea Development Board model wherein the tea plantation has been done on forest, panchayat and individual land by taking it on lease for a particular time period, the chief minister said efforts would be made to transform tea gardens through mechanisation.

To promote Kangra Tea, it was decided to organise a national seminar and exhibition in the state in November.

Additional chief secretary Upma Chaudhary said an initial proposal of Rs.7.20 crore has been sent to the Tea Board of India for financial assistance to small and marginal growers.

She said the tea plantation has also been initiated at Holta near Baijnath town in Kangra district and efforts are on to explore new areas for tea cultivation.

Official sources told IANS that around 900,000 kg of tea is being produced in the state every year.

Kangra tea is an orthodox variety, close to Darjeeling tea, and it has been registered under the Geographical Indications (GI) of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

Tea cultivation was introduced in and around the Palampur foothills in the Kangra valley in the mid-19th century. The Camellia tea, planted by the British in 1849, grew so popular that tea from Kangra won a gold medal at an exhibition in London in 1886 for its superb flavour and quality.

However, a major earthquake that hit the area in 1905 destroyed a large number of tea gardens and tea factories. Thereafter, most of the European planters left, handing over their tea estates to the Indians.

Lifting of trade barriers, which allowed other countries to push their supplies at a much lower cost, adversely affected the local tea industry.

Horticulture experts say tea production in Kangra has seen a drastic fall in the past 15 years with only small producers, with an average holding of around 0.6 acres, engaging in tea plantation.

As per the estimation carried out in 1997 by the state, 2,312 hectares come under tea cultivation.

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