DARJEELING: The turmoil in Darjeeling over the demand for a separate state has hit its famed tea gardens hard, with the local tea industry looking at a revenue loss of ₹340 crore, officials say.
An indefinite shutdown called by trade unions affiliated to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading the protests to press for carving a separate state out of West Bengal, has brought operations to a grinding halt in the 87 tea gardens of the region.
Sandeep Mukherjee, principal adviser to the Darjeeling Tea Association, told HT that the disruption has seriously affected the ‘second flush’ crop harvested in the second round of plucking of tea leaves. The ‘second flush’ crop, which is usually harvested around this time, accounts for 20% of Darjeeling’s tea production and 40% of its revenue.
Darjeeling’s tea is exported in large volumes and its buyers include the Japanese royal family and famous departmental stores such as Harrods in London.
“Since plucking of leaves has stopped for the last 12 days, there has been an undergrowth in bushes, making the crop more vulnerable to pest attacks,” Mukherjee said. Tea association officials said the indefinite strike may result in empty tea shelves in stores around the world.
Darjeeling has been in upheaval since June 8 after the GJM revived its call for a separate state, prompting thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets in support of Gorkhaland.
The protests have hit normal life and have also led to the death of at least three protesters.
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland is an emotive issue in the hills of north Bengal with Gorkhas complaining of their identity and culture being swamped by Bengalis.
Stoppage of work at the tea gardens for a day leads to a 1% loss in its annual production, Mukherjee explained.
He said that the gardens have already lost 11% revenue and 40% of their exports due to the current unrest.
The Darjeeling tea industry employs more than 75,000 people and more than two lakh people are dependent on them.
Calling for a quick solution, Mukherjee said the “entire ‘second flush’ crop of tea was in danger if the shutdown continued”.
“This is an industry that provides mass employment and all stakeholders must help to keep the industry alive,” he said.
Though Darjeeling accounts for only 1% of the country’s tea produce, its flavour has won it connoisseurs all over the world. Last year, the hills produced 8.2 million kg of tea, 60% of which was organic.