Park for branded brew buyers - Minister wants land to be identified by February 10

Darjeeling, Jan. 16: Union minister of state for commerce and power Jairam Ramesh today announced a Darjeeling GI Tea Park in the hills with an initial investment of Rs 10 crore.

“I want the land for the park to be identified by February 10 and the first phase of work completed within 12 months. The activities in the centre would be cleaning, grading, sorting and packaging,” said Ramesh.

“If such a centre can be set up in Germany, it can definitely be done within the Darjeeling Tea growing area. I always believe that the local people should be involved in any value addition activity that will contribute to the local economy,” said Ramesh.

A planter explained that a tea park was a centre that catered for the needs of buyers. “Once we export our products to different countries, it is not that they start selling them in the condition that they receive the goods. They are sorted and graded according to needs and checked to see if the certification process has been completed. Once set up, the tea park will perform all these functions. It will help provide custom-made product.”

The minister said the Kurseong-based Darjeeling Tea Research Centre had been allotted Rs 5.5 crore in the 11th Plan. “This is a significant amount for the centre and I hope it will be beneficial for the industry.”

Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India, admitted that the research centre had not been functioning properly. “The centre had been without scientists for some time. But now we have now managed to get five scientists for the centre and core issues for the industry like soil fertility and erosion would be looked into,” said Banerjee.

Following a casual suggestion from Sanjay Bansal, the chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association, on the need to institute an award for planters, Ramesh immediately said: “It’s done. I expect the details to be worked out before February 10. If it is ready, I will come to Darjeeling before March 10 to give it away.” The model code of conduct for the general election is likely to be operational from March 10.

The minister stressed that re-plantations should take place on a faster pace. “Earlier the rate of plantation was 0.5 percent but of late it has increased to 6 per cent. Even at this rate, it would take around 8-10 years for total re-plantation. But the planters must complete the task within four to five years,” said Ramesh. Of the estimated 10,000 hectares, about 1,300 hectares have been replanted by the Darjeeling industry, he added.

Ramesh said the registration of Darjeeling Tea as a Geographic Indicator product in the European Union would be completed by October.