New logo for Dooar & Terai tea

Siliguri, April 29: The Tea Board of India plans to introduce a separate logo featuring an elephant to brand tea produced in the Terai and the Dooars.

The tea board had earlier come up with three logos — featuring a rhino, hills and a woman holding two leaves and a bud — to brand tea produced in Assam, the Nilgiris and Darjeeling, respectively.

“The new logo will feature an elephant standing against the backdrop of tea bushes. It will be similar to the logo for Assam tea (see picture),” Basudeb Banerjee, the tea board chairman, told The Telegraph over the phone from Bagdogra today.

“We expect to bring out the logo by the end of this year,” Banerjee added.

All varieties of tea, be it CTC, orthodox or value-added, produced in the region will carry the logo indicating the geographic location of production, sources said.

Banerjee had come to north Bengal to inaugurate a Rs 3-crore state-of-the-art tea factory built by a tea major in a garden on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town. He also visited the self-help groups (SHGs) formed by the small tea growers of the region.

“We have decided to open an office in Jalpaiguri, which will operate under the board’s Siliguri office, to help stakeholders here,” Banerjee said. “The office will be particularly helpful for small tea growers.”

The board has also initiated the task of upgrading the tea research station (TRA) at Nagrakata and plans to open a full-fledged training centre there.

“Currently, planters, their staff and small growers have to go to the TRA headquarters in Assam’s Tocklai, to get trained in tea production,” the chairman said. “We have decided to open a similar training centre in Nagrakata to meet the demand of the north Bengal tea industry. The Darjeeling tea research centre in Kurseong will get around Rs 5 crore so that it can be developed into a centre of excellence. Funds for all these have been earmarked under the 11th five-year plan.”

Banerjee said the tea board has “a series of schemes available to help small growers”. “It was nice to see that some SHGs in Mainaguri area are saving money from each kilo of tealeaves they sell to raise a capital for building a mini factory. The board is there to provide them with 40 per cent subsidy,” he added.

The chairman was also optimistic of seeing a good year for the industry, considering the rise in prices and stability in production.

“There had been some initial losses in March, but it has been compensated in the current month. Prices are on the higher side and we expect a good year ahead,” Banerjee said.

Closed tea estate gets back to work

Bharnobari Tea Estate (Alipurduar), April 27: Workers of this Dooars tea garden had a busy Sunday as they cleaned and painted the factory to get it ready for tomorrow, when the garden reopens after nearly two-and-a-half years.

They also gave the display board outside the garden a fresh coat of paint. The notice board in the office announced that the garden would reopen on May 28.

Three new financiers have taken over the garden that has been closed since December 30, 2005. Two of them — Surojit Basu and Ashoke Chawla — visited Bharnobari today. The third financier is Kingshuk Sinha.

“We are yet to get the ownership documents because of some legal wrangle, but the garden will be transferred in our name soon,” said Basu, who, along with the other two, runs two gardens in north Bengal and Assam.

“We are happy to see that the machines in Bharnobari are ready. Not a single thing has been stolen from the factory though the workers have gone through very difficult times,” said Basu.

A source said the main problem was that the garden’s electricity lines had been disconnected a long time ago. “They will have to use a generator to begin manufacturing tea and that is going to be very costly,” the source added.

Basu, however, said the electricity connection would be restored within three weeks. The financier added that initially they would invest Rs 12 crore over two years. “We will spend Rs 8 crore to clear 60 per cent of the dues of the workers and another Rs 4 crore to run the garden,” Basu said. “We also plan to plant new tea bushes in the 30 acres of the plantation that are lying unused.”

The workers, on their part, said they would not claim their dues until 2009. “For one year, we will not claim any dues because it will be better to invest the money in the garden. The important point is that the new owners run two other gardens and they know the ins and outs of the business,” Babulal Harizon, a worker, said.

Even if the dues are held back for a year, the workers will be paid their wages. “Each of them will also receive Rs 750 a month from the Bengal government as financial assistance to workers of locked out industries,” said Madan Sarki, the convener of the operations and management committee of Bharnobari.

Brands before mini factories

Siliguri, April 25: Self-help groups of small growers plan to merchandise made-tea from bought-leaf factories (BLFs) in a bid to promote their own brand of the produce.

“Considering the Tea Board’s decision to set up small-scale cooperative-based BLFs, some SHGs of small tea growers are thinking of merchandising tea under their own brand names,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “The exercise is aimed to create a market for the brands before the mini factories come up.”

The idea was mooted at a workshop organised by Tradecraft, an UK-based NGO in Jalpaiguri, last month.

In north Bengal, there are around 15,000-odd small growers. They have formed 41 SHGs, including 15 in Jalpaiguri. Across the country, there are 156 such groups.

BLF owners have welcomed the idea. “Given the present market of CTC tea, we appreciate any initiative taken to sell tea. The more tea is sold, the more the industry earns and recuperates from the slump,” said Prabir Seal, president of the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association.

Tour & get branded tea for life - Tumsong Tea Garden

Tumsong Tea Garden, April 25. Savor a colonial lifestyle in a century-old bungalow and forge a life-long bonding with a garden situated amid mountains.

Tumsong Retreat — resplendent with well manicured gardens and sparkling river — has been spruced up and is getting ready to roll out red carpet to receive its first group of visitors in May.

“The idea to start tea tourism struck us when our foreign clients wanted some facility where their customers could be in harmony with nature. And we decided to refurbish this bungalow built in 1867,” said Arvind Nevatia, director of Chamong Chiabari Resorts Pvt Ltd.

The Retreat, situated about 30km from Darjeeling, will be a launch pad for tea tourism Chamong group is planning to start in the hills. The group owns 13 gardens in the hills, besides three in Assam.

“We are exploring the possibility of tying up with foreign investors who can pump in about Rs 200 crore. They will take a decision once the infrastructure is in place,” said Nevatia.

The Retreat promises to attract not only foreign but also domestic travelers who are looking for a serene spot.

“We will charge 150 Euros (Rs 9,300) for a single night stay in a room,” said Nevaita. The amount is inclusive of pick-up and dropping of tourists from and at either Bagdogra airport or New Jalpaiguri railway station.

Added to these are meals, evening cocktail, bonfires, cultural show and sightseeing in Darjeeling, including a joy ride on toy train between Ghoom and Darjeeling.

The drinks that will be served free of cost, however, include only Indian-made foreign liquors, although there is no limit if you really plan to binge. “If people want high-end liquor, then they will have to shell out more,” said Nevatia.

A ride along the Choota Rangit and angling in it are also included in the package. Tour operators, however, suggest that people looking for a perfect holiday should stay in the garden for at least three days.

Tourists, who make a beeline for Tumsong, are assured of a bonding with the garden flavor. “The visitors will plant a sapling on the day he arrives at Retreat. Until it matures, we will be sending the client a packet of Darjeeling Tea every year on the date he arrived at our bungalow. Once the plant grows, we will process the leaves and start sending the yield for his entire lifetime, said Nevatia.

If you are a bit adventurous also, the place might be of your liking. The organizers will take you to a spot where you may be able to see leopards and deer move in the wild.

Old relocation row surfaces in Chandmoni

Siliguri, April 23: An announcement to relocate former workers of Chandmoni Tea Estate to Uttarayon Township triggered a protest, leaving a local Citu leader and his henchmen to face the brunt.

The alleged assault on Rambahadur, the Citu leader, and the arrests that followed has brought back memories of the 2002 police firing in which two workers, part of a protesting group unwilling to give up the land, were killed. This time, around 550 families living on 200 acres of the remaining garden land near the STPI earth station, are not ready to shift to Uttarayon under a rehabilitation package.

Rambahadur and his supporters had enrolled with the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) to get the relocation benefits. On Monday, when a recorded message played over a loudspeaker in an auto-rickshaw, escorted by a police jeep, urged people to enrol within the next four days, the women of the area first forced the vehicles to leave.

“They then went to Rambahadur’s house, accusing him of conspiring with the government. He got scared and fled the spot. Later, he lodged a complaint against four of our members, accusing them of assaulting him,” said Anil Munda, the secretary of the Jami Bachao (save land) Committee that was formed in 2002. The four were arrested.

“In 2002, the SJDA officials had said permanent workers who took voluntary retirement would be given Rs 2 lakh, 2.5 cottah plots and another Rs 75,000 to build houses on the land,” claimed Abhijit Majumdar, the Darjeeling district secretary of the CPI-ML (Liberation).

When the save-land committee asked the SJDA to show the plot for relocation, it allegedly failed to do so. Most workers then constructed houses on the garden land, spending a portion of the compensation. “Now, after six years they are proposing a relocation, where we have to shell out money,” said Munda.

The SJDA has proposed to build the new houses for Rs 1 lakh. “While Rs 64,000 would be given by the Centre, the beneficiaries would have to pay the remaining Rs 36,000,” said Majumdar.

Bengal urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, who is the chairman of SJDA, said plans for the relocation had been finalised when the Uttarayon deal was inked. “We needed time and funds to develop the infrastructure. We are not asking them to shift immediately, but enrol to avail of the relocation package.”

About the houses that the workers have already built, the minister said: “Why did they do it? They knew about the relocation plan.”

Football to enthuse tea workers

A knockout football tournament would begin on 1 May involving the tea estate workers spread over the Terai region. North Eastern Labour Institute, Siliguri are the organisers of the tournament. The mission behind it, according to the organisers, is to strengthen friendship among the tea estate workers of the Terai region.

Mr Alok Chakravorty, the secretary, NELI, said that 36 teams formed of the tea estate workers of the region would participate in the tournament. The final is scheduled on 1 June.

“At a time when the tea estates in the Terai region are passing through a very difficult phase we are trying to enthuse the workers engaged in a grim survival struggle through this tournament. We are receiving overwhelming response from the workers,” Mr Chakravorty said.

Soccer for Terai tea workers

For the first time, tea garden workers of the Terai will take on each other in a football tournament organised by North Eastern Labour Institute (NELI).

Thirty-six teams will participate in the Inter-Terai Tea Garden Knockout Football Tournament to be held in Siliguri from May 1, said Aloke Chakraborty, the secretary of the NELI. He added that NELI was formed two years ago and was working for the overall welfare of the garden workers.

Everyday, there will be two matches which will be played on the football ground of Dagapur Tea Estate on the outskirts of Siliguri. The winner will get Iswar Chandra Tirkey Memorial Champions trophy and a cash award of Rs 15,000.

“Cricket may have sent football to the backseat. But many people living in this region, especially in tea gardens, still like to play soccer and love to watch the matches. The tournament is being organised with an aim to highlight the local talents and at the same time, to remember the former trade union leaders and planters,” said Chakraborty.

Watch elephants from tea bungalow

Alipurduar, April 18: As you sit in the bungalow at Bandapani Tea Estate and look east, you can see the hills of Bhutan on the edge of the plantation. To the north flows the Dhumchi and on certain days you can see elephants cross the river from the bungalow.

Bandapani, along with Grassmore Tea Estate, has been opened to tourists by the Mohta Group of Industries. Both gardens are located in a beautiful landscape with forests, rivers and hills. Plus the elephant corridor from the Sankosh to the Mechi runs close to the Bandapani estate.

The gardens are also well connected, said Rupak Deb, the superintendent manager of the Mohta Group. Grassmore is located along NH31C in Banarhat, while Bandapani is only 14km from the highway at Birpara. Tourists there can also easily reach Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Gorumara national Park.

The Mohta Group turned to tourism to inject some much-needed cash into the gardens, which were not running well. “A couple of bungalows were lying unused at both Bandapani and Grassmore, so we decided to renovate them and throw them open to tourists,” said Deb.

The bungalow at Grassmore has three double bed rooms, while the one at Bandapani has four. Each room costs Rs 1,200 a night excluding food. “We have employed cooks and caretakers. If the tourists need guides or cars, we can arrange that as well,” said Anil Biswas, the manager of Bandapani.

Already 25 groups of tourists from Calcutta have come and stayed at the bungalows.

Russian deal for north Bengal tea

The CII’s North Bengal Zonal Council has reached an understanding with a Russian company for direct export of tea from here to the Republic of Bashkortostan. The deal came through after five months of negotiations.

“Teastan, a company based in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, has agreed to buy 20 tonnes of orthodox tea from north Bengal every month,” G.S. Hora, the next chairman of CII’s zonal council, said.

“A consortium of about 20 stakeholders from different sections of the tea industry, namely planters, traders and blenders, is being formed in Siliguri. The exports will take place through this consortium. Once it is formed, a formal agreement will be reached between the company and the consortium. As a facilitator, it was our job to create an interface between the industries of the two countries,” said Hora.

Bashkortostan is a federal subject of Russia.

“The deal with Russia is a significant development for the tea industry,” said Sravan Chowdhury, a tea trader who was a member of the delegation that went to Ufa in November last year. “Russia used to be a very big market for Indian tea, before we lost out to Kenyan and Ceylonese brew. It caused a huge damage to the industry here. Now, we can look forward to recapturing the market.”

The tea that would be exported to Russia is black orthodox tea of TGFOP (tippy, grainy flowery orange pekoe) and FOP (flowery orange pekoe) grades. Chowdhury said Russia is witnessing a change in tea-drinking pattern from predominantly CTC to orthodox tea.

The quality of the tea exported to Bashkortostan has to be of very high standard. “Every month, samples will be sent to them,” Hora said. “They will be tested to see if they conform to the Russian standards, after which the exports would be made.”

A recent communiqué to the CII has made it clear that the tea should not contain more than seven per cent moisture and 0.0005 per cent metallomagnetic admixtures (metallic residues). “The tea must conform to their requirements under GOST P 1937-90 (TOCT P 1937-90), the Russian certificate of conformity,” Hora said.

Ravi Agarwal, another member of the delegation, said the deal was prestigious for north Bengal. “It is the first time that the Republic of Bashkortostan is trading directly with another country. So far, all industries in the small republic were dependant on Moscow.”

Most of Darjeeling tea gardens to go organic

The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) has mounted efforts to increase the production of organic tea so that the majority of the champagne of teas is organically produced by 2010.

Industry sources say that at present about 37 per cent of the total crop grown on the slopes of the eastern Himalayas is organic tea, as per certifications given by European and Japanese agencies.

“Efforts are on now to cover at least two more gardens that contribute 13 per cent of the total yield under the organic cultivation norms,” a source at the DTA, the apex industry body, told The Hindu.

Given the fact that the annual Darjeeling tea crop averages at about 9.5 to 10 million kg in volume terms, India would be offering around five million kg of the brew as an organically grown product. However, initially the crop would be lower as the conversion process reduces output by half.

It takes about three years to convert a garden from conventional plantation to an organic one. This involves not only a total ban on chemical fertilizers and pesticides but there are also restrictions on the use of some natural items. “For instance, use of tobacco extracts for pest control, is not allowed,” sources said. Pointing out that the movement on organic production of teas started about 15 years ago, the sources said that at that time it commanded a huge premium in the international market with some of them selling at Rs. 10,000 a kg. Japan and Germany were two of the biggest markets for organic Darjeeling tea although the U.K. and the U.S. have also been buying this tea.

Countries such as Germany, which imports about 50 per cent of the total Darjeeling tea output (both organic and inorganic), often re-export this to European countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland.

At present the ‘queen of brews’ is grown over an area spanning 7,500 hectares in the Darjeeling district in West Bengal with some of the gardens sprawling across steep slopes sometime at a height of 6,500 feet.

There are now 87 tea estates growing Darjeeling tea. However, there is little scope for increasing the output substantially although there is a huge global demand now for teas, especially premium varieties.

In the beverage space as well as a nutraceutical, tea is being re-invented.

The sources said that the good news was that changes in ownership and taking over of sick gardens bodes well for the Darjeeling tea industry especially as manufacturing processes and practices would improve, but crop might not increase sizably even after the Centre’s rejuvenation and replantation scheme, the Special Purpose Tea Fund, which has now got under way.

Tata Tea lay hands on Darjeeling Tea

KOLKATA: Tata Tea, the manufacturer and distributor of tea, will launch branded Darjeeling packet tea next year to take on competition, a company official said.

Tata Tea Executive Director (marketing) Sangeeta Talwar told reporters here today that Darjeeling tea would be sourced from auctions, after which it would be sold in packets.

Tata Tea had recently withdrawn Ceylon and Nilgiris branded orthodox tea due to poor response from the market. The brands were launched in south India.

On an annual basis, Tata Tea has pipped Hindustan Unilever in terms of volume market share from April 2007 to February 2008, Talwar said.

In terms of value market share, however, the company was behind HUL, she added.

Tata Tea has recently started the 'Jaago Re' campaign for its brands in the country. The company has also entered into an agreement with British soccer team Arsenal for promoting the sport among schools in India.

Darjeeling Happy Valley Tea Garden Opens with a museum

Happy Valley tea estate, after lying closed for about three years, reopened in Darjeeling Hills. The 435-acre tea garden having more than 1500 employees, would now house a museum at the plantation.

"The purpose of the museum is to spread awareness about tea production and boost sales," Mr S K Bansal, Chairperson of Ambotia Tea Group which owns the garden, said.

The museum would be an attraction for tourists visiting the garden, hosting century old artifacts and mementos. Tourist turnout has been planned to be increased by a day-long tour, while making available items like tea cakes, tea breads, tea soups and te a rice. The reopening of the garden is a harbinger of good news for the local workers. - PTI