Expert tips for Darjeeling Tea

Kalimpong, June 3: The vice-chancellor of Sikkim Central University, Mahendra P. Lama, has suggested a seven-pronged strategy to turn around the fortunes of the tea industry in the Darjeeling hills and make it more labour-centric.

Addressing members of the Hill Employees’ Association here today, Lama, who is an expert on South Asian economy, said production of the famed Darjeeling Tea has come down from 15 million tonnes to around 6-7 million tonnes.

“Surely, the fault must lie somewhere; either with the owners or the trade unions,” the vice-chancellor said.

Lama suggested a seven-point programme starting with worker empowerment by giving them shares. “The most expensive tea is from Darjeeling and the poorest workers in the world are also from Darjeeling. How can that happen?” he asked.

Lama said it must be made mandatory for owners to run their estates for at least 10 years to provide continuity and maximise output, besides carrying out a sustained re-plantation programme in the gardens. “Most (tea) bushes in Darjeeling are over 150 years old. And bushes between 25 and 40 years give the best tea,” he added.

The vice-chancellor said setting up of tea auction centre in Darjeeling was a must to ensure transparency in transaction.

Adopting organic methods of plantation and integrating tea with tourism would also go a long way in reviving the industry, Lama said.

During his speech, which lasted over an hour, Lama touched upon a wide range of issues, including the renewed demand for Gorkhaland.

The academician who hails from Darjeeling clarified at the outset that he had no links with political parties, but added that the journey of life would be incomplete if individuals did not fight for their rights.

Calling the movement for a separate state the final fight, he advocated a multi-pronged strategy with a strong intellectual content to achieve it. Lama also stressed on the right leadership to make the movement effective and took potshots at the GNLF for misleading the people for over two decades.

The Hill Employees’ Association was celebrating its 22nd foundation day as Ekta Diwas following the recent merger of its two factions.