Darjeeling, Oct. 22: A bridge packed with a festival crowd caved in near Darjeeling town this evening, killing at least 27 people when the wooden walkway tumbled 150ft into a swift-flowing river.

Police sources said nearly 80 people were injured in the 7pm collapse in Bijanbari, about 40km from Darjeeling town.

Most of those on the bridge — suspended by steel cables over the Little Rangit — were Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters who had gathered for a cultural program organized by the outfit as part of its five-day festival in the hills. Today was the festival’s last day.

Darjeeling district magistrate Saumitra Mohan said at least 27 people were killed in the collapse. “We have reports that some of the casualties were taken away by villagers from the incident site.”

Mohan, who reached the spot, added that efforts were on to send the injured to the Darjeeling district hospital.

Police sources said the darkness was hampering rescue and efforts were on to set up floodlights. “There is considerable water in the swift-flowing river and we fear that some of the victims could have been swept away by the current. The terrain is also very difficult,” said a senior police officer on the spot.

Sources in the district administration said the bridge, about 80ft long and 6ft wide, was built by the Darjeeling zilla parishad in 1972.

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said party volunteers were helping the police to rescue the injured.

“Our party president, Bimal Gurung, and I had visited Bijanbari this morning…. In the evening there was a large crowd, mostly local residents and those from nearby Darjeeling Tea plantations of Chunthung, Marybong and Linga, who had gathered to witness the cultural programs and the mela on the other side of the bridge,” Giri said.

In Calcutta, chief minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters she had asked north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb and Siliguri MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya to rush to Darjeeling.

Mamata, who is expected to leave for Darjeeling tomorrow, said the Bengal government would do all it could to stand by those affected “during this tragic hour” and bear all medical expenses.

Survivor Nirmal Chhetri, a driver, recalled the horror from his bed in Darjeeling district hospital. “There was a loud sound and I saw the bridge collapsing. I fell and cannot remember what happened after that.”

Source: Telegraph

Last week at Sale No. 41, the total offerings (packages) at the three North Indian tea auction centres at Kolkata, Guwahati and Siliguri were 4,27,331 as compared to 1,52,290 in the corresponding sale of the previous year when No Sale was reported at Guwahati and Siliguri, according to J Thomas & Company Pvt Ltd, tea auctioneers.

At Kolkata, the total offerings were 1,46,843 (1,52,290) comprising CTC/Dust 1,03,190 (1,05,864), Orthodox 37,931( 40,886) and Darjeeling Tea 5,722 (5,540).

The corresponding offerings at Guwahati were 1,57,541 (No Sale) and at Siliguri 1,22,947 (No Sale).

Selected clean and better liquoring Assam CTC teas were firm to dearer while the remainder were irregularly lower following quality. Well-made Dooars sold readily at firm rates while the remainder tended irregularly easier. Tata Global was active. There was good support from Hindustan Unilever. Western India dealers were active for the liquoring sorts. There were fair enquiries from North India as well as local sections. Exporters operated on the bolder brokens and fannings.

Orthodox whole leaf grades sold at easier rates. Brokens and fannings followed a similar trend. Continental buyers operated selectively on the tippy sorts.

Darjeeling whole leaf and broken grades sold around last levels while fannings were irregularly lower. There was useful enquiry from traditional exporters. Hindustan Unilever was active with fair support from Tata Global. Local dealers operated for the brokens and fannings.    

Source: Business Line

Gujarat based tea brand trying to retail nation wide

Delhi woke up and smelt the tea this morning. Gujarat-based tea brand Wagh Bakri, which is brewing a retail plan as well as nursing national ambitions, opened its first tea lounge in the Capital. It served an array of handpicked varieties of Darjeeling Tea, the Nilgiris, Sri Lanka and Kenya at the outlet.

According to Mr Parag Desai, Executive Director (Sales and Marketing), Wagh Bakri, many more such lounges are on the anvil, though they plan to take it slow and steady. The company already has a tea lounge in Vile Parle, Mumbai.

The Rs 500-crore Wagh Bakri brand, which till some time ago was mainly a regional brand serving Gujarat and Rajasthan, has been on a furious expansion spree of late. With sales volumes of 25 million kg of tea, it has now spread to Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad and Goa.

Last year, it entered the Delhi-NCR market, and Mr Desai says plans are to now move further north. According to Mr Desai, Wagh Bakri with 7-8 per cent market share of the branded tea business, is now at the third spot behind HUL and Tata Tea.

“Tea is a very fragmented business. It's like our political parties — there are strong regional players, who command fierce loyalty in their States. Some regional parties/brands go to the national stage,” says Mr Desai, fourth generation of the Wagh Bakri clan that at one time were tea growers in South Africa.
Marketing budget

The young, US-educated Desai is the one pushing the hitherto low-profile brand into the limelight, with a Rs 40-crore marketing budget, which includes a television commercial and extensive below-the-line promotions.

Another Rs 40 crore has been invested in setting up a new manufacturing facility, forty minutes away from Ahmedabad. This will have the capacity to blend and process 10 million kg of tea to add to the existing 25 million kg at three other existing facilities and will be operational in the next six months, said Mr Desai.

The expansion will be wholly from internal accruals, says Mr Desai, pointing out that the company is debt-free, cash-rich and growing annually at 10-15 per cent.

But, why has the tea lounge been opened in the North Delhi suburb of Pitampura and not a more central location? “We did our research and found that North Delhi is fast becoming an epicentre of people eating out and shopping. Brands like Zara are opening here,” says Mr Desai.

Source: Business Line

Darjeeling's tryst with heritage rail history

The queen of the hills had a tryst with history through a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) exhibition.
The exhibition depicted the immense contribution of the DHR in the growth of the Darjeeling district. American author and humorist Mark Twain during his visit to Darjeeling in February 1896 had taken the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways' Express Trolly service.  The 61-year-old Twain had described the journey as the best day of his life.

The Trolly service flagged off on April 1, 1927, using gravity as the power glided down from 7407 to 533 feet.  It was projected as a novel experience for holidaymakers. "No motor risks; no smoke; no dust. Once enjoyed, never forgotten," stated the Billboards.

Organized by the friends' of the DHR along with the Inner Wheel Club of Darjeeling, the exhibition portrayed many such long forgotten facts.  In 1866 there were 39 established Darjeeling Tea gardens. With the arrival of East Bengal railways at Siliguri in 1878 followed by the DHR in 1881, the tea industry had a tremendous boost with easy railway access to the auction houses in Kolkata.

In 1906 came the first bogie coaches. Earlier there were carriages with four wheels.  For many years the DHR used to transport both Mountaineers and equipment for the Everest expeditions which started from Darjeeling.

Mails were dispatched in specially constructed coaches. Carriages with red band of colour with letterboxes on the sides for posting letters were a common site. In early 1980s mail was shifted to road transport.

However all this is set to be lost in time.  "The condition of the DHR is very disheartening.  A lot of damage has been caused by natural disasters including frequent landslips and even the recent earthquake. However the DHR service is deteriorating by the day. The Railways is running it like a railway and not looking after the heritage part " alleged Marilyn Metz of the Friends' of the DHR.

The DHR was inscribed as a World heritage site by the UNESCO in 1999 in recognition of the significant role played by the DHR in the development of the Darjeeling district.

"All world heritage sites have a conservation management plan. The Railways have failed to come up with any such plan. Thus there is no guideline for repairs, renovation and constructions.  In order to save money the stone bricks and timber is being replaced by concrete resulting in the loss of the heritage aspect" added Peter Tiller also from the Friends' of the DHR. Recently two heritage water towers were pulled down at Tung station replaced by regular water pipes.  "The DHR is 130 years old. Darjeeling and the hill communities grew with the DHR. The DHR belongs to the people.  We hope that this exhibition by telling a little of the story of the Railways, will inspire the public to nurture and support the DHR over the coming years" stated Tiller.

The exhibition which was flagged off on Friday at the Rink Mall in Darjeeling will continue till the October 21. Rare photographs, reprints of sketches, placards are on display.

"It is truly an eye opener. DHR enthusiasts all the way from London have taken so much of pain to portray the story of this World Heritage, and its transformation through the ages. We the residents of Darjeeling have failed to nurture our won treasure" stated Mahesh Chettri, a resident.

In the year 1879 work first started on the DHR, then called the Darjeeling Steam Tramways. The stretch from Siliguri to Kurseong was opened on August 23 1880. The Siliguri to Darjeeling track was inaugurated on July 4 1881.

 The name of the rail company was then changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. At present it does a 88 km stretch from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri. It starts at 398 feet at NJP in the plains and climbs up to 7407 feet at the highest point at Ghoom.

Source: Hindustan Times

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad have lined up a series of demands to be placed before the chief minister when she arrives in north Bengal tomorrow. Mamata Banerjee, who will spend the first two days of her tour in the hills, will formally launch the post-quake restoration work and lay the foundation of a car park in Darjeeling before she inaugurates the cultural fest a day before it commences. In the plains, sources said, Mamata might lay the foundation of a school for tribal students in Kalchini, distribute post-Madhyamik scholarships and caste certificates while meeting Parishad leaders, who are wary of the Morcha and apprehensive about the Trinamul chief’s first visit to the Dooars as chief minister. The tribal leaders were always against the Morcha’s statehood agitation. Since the signing of the agreement to set up the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a government-appointed committee has been examining the Morcha demand to bring the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai under the new hill authority. The Parishad is vehemently against the formation of the committee. “A delegation led by our party chief Bimal Gurung will meet the chief minister at 2pm tomorrow. In course of the meeting, we will hand over a detailed report of the damage caused to the Darjeeling hills by the earthquake,” said Binay Tamang, the assistant secretary of the Morcha. “On October 11, when she opens the cultural fest at Chowrastha, we will show her video clips of areas affected by the quake —places she had missed during her trip to the hills after the tremor.” Tamang said the Morcha would also discuss with Mamata projects which “need to be immediately implemented” in the hills. Party sources said the people of Darjeeling and its adjoining areas had been asked to join the opening ceremony of the cultural fest in their traditional attires. The tourist fest, to showcase the majestic world the Darjeeling Himalayas, will continue till October 30. The Morcha will impress upon Mamata to ask for financial assistance from the Centre for the rehabilitation of quake victims in the hills on the lines of the one provided to Sikkim, party insiders said. Sources in Darjeeling district administration said the chief minister would visit Jorepokhri, on the fringes of Darjeeling town, to formally launch the restoration work. “She would then lay the foundations of a multi-storied car parking facility on Lebong Cart Road and the beautification of Chowrastha. Then she will participate in the cultural fest at the same venue,” a senior officer said. The chief minister, who is expected in the plains by Wednesday, will meet a delegation of Parishad leaders in the Dooars that day. “We will surely meet the chief minister but the time and venue are yet to be finalized. The committee formed to look into the Morcha's territory demand will top our discussions. We have been opposing this panel tooth and nail,” said Tezkumar Toppo, the state general secretary of the Parishad. “We will try to convince her that the formation of such a panel is irrelevant as almost everybody in the Dooars and Terai is against any move that will make them part of the GTA. The jurisdiction of the GTA should be confined to the three hill sub-divisions.” The Parishad will also ask the chief minister to confer land rights to tea workers, set up a Hindi medium college, a training institute for Hindi medium school teachers and a bridge over the Teesta, parallel to the Coronation Bridge but further downstream. The proposed bridge near Sevoke Bazar is expected to help the people of the Dooars save considerable time and fuel when they go to Sikkim. The Jalpaiguri district administration said it was not yet aware of Mamata’s complete itinerary. “ So far, we can say that she will attend two government programs in Malbazar — and give away post-metric scholarships to tribal students and caste certificates to prospective beneficiaries. Further itineraries and venues are yet to be finalized,” said district magistrate Smaraki Mahapatra. Sources in the administration, however, said the chief minister might visit Kalchini to lay the foundation of Raghunath Murmu Memorial School for tribal children. “She is also scheduled to hold an administrative meeting before she leaves for Calcutta. These are, however, yet to be finalized,” Mahapatra said. Source: The Telegraph

Carritt Moran & Co, the second-largest and one of India’s oldest tea auctioneers, is being wound up, bringing to an end a legacy of 134 years. And McLeod Russel India Ltd, the largest tea plantation company and one of Carritt Morgan’s creditors, is set to get control of one of its prized assets, a property having an office-cum-guest house at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. “Carritt Moran owed money to us against which its assets in Coonoor were mortgaged. We recently got a favourable verdict from the Calcutta High Court,” said Aditya Khaitan, managing director of McLeod Russel. Carritt Moran, along with J Thomas & Co has been controlling the tea-auction industry out of Kolkata — auctioning bulk tea by sourcing from tea plantation companies like McLeod Russel and Jayshree Tea and selling them to marketers like Tata Tea, Hindustan Unilever, Wagh Bakri and also to exporters across the world. Only a fraction of country’s tea produce, mostly premium-grade varieties of Darjeeling Tea, is traded outside the auctioning system and exported directly. It’s not any crisis in the tea industry that has brought down Carrittt Moran, set up in 1877 by two Englishmen, Thomas and Alfred Caritt to deal in tea, coffee and other commodities. In recent times, beyond its auctioning services, Carritt Moran has been involved in financing activities, lending short-term funds to tea producers. Cash flows suddenly suffered when a few of its creditors defaulted, forcing Carritt Moran, in turn, to default on its dues to the planters from whom it sourced teas, triggering panic in the tea trade sector. That was in 2009. Some of the creditors then filed a winding up case in the Calcutta High Court in a bid to recover their dues by selling off the company’s assets. The liquidation of the auctioneer was ordered and an official liquidator appointed to oversee the process. Carritt Moran also owns offices in Guwahati, Siliguri, Cochin, Coimbatore and Bangalore. It had earlier sold off its Kolkata head office to another city-based tea company. With the Calcutta High Court ordering liquidation of all assets of Carritt Moran, McLeod Russel approached the court and argued that since it has a charge against the Coonoor property, it should be set aside, said McLeod Russel chief finance officer, Kamal Baheti. “Carritt Moran owed us around Rs 4.5 crore and we had filed the charge long before the liquidation proceedings started. The court has ordered last week that we have precedence in terms of settlement of creditors.” The incident in 2009 forced Tea Board to adopt a cash-and-carry financing model and better risk management systems suggested by consultancy firm AF Ferguson & Co. Source: DNA India

Dolly's Tea selling Darjeeling Tea and Assams

No Indian city knows its cup of tea better than Calcutta. Understandable, given its proximity to Darjeeling, and its tea company culture. Take, for example, our tea-lover friend Gautam, who is extremely particular about his teas: in the afternoons he obviously has a fragrant Darjeeling (without milk and sugar, of course), but for a morning pick-me-up he prefers a sinewy Assam orthodox tea (with milk and sugar). And for monsoon days he recommends a robust Assam CTC. By way of explanation, he likens Darjeeling teas to Scotch, Assam orthodox teas to vodkas and CTC teas to rums. Dolly’s is for aficionados like him. It sells a selection of teas by the kilo, from a very basic Darjeeling Tea at Rs 450 per kg to Makaibari Silver Tips at Rs 12,000. But what’s interesting is that it’s one of those rare places that also serves these teas by the cup, allowing you to play the tea-taster and experiment with different varieties before you buy. It’s a tiny joint, with walls panelled with old tea chests, which squeezes in just about a dozen people. In the course of a leisurely tasting session, we tried a variety of Darjeelings: the sparkling Darjeeling Autumn, the smoky Makaibari Oolong, the wonderfully mellow Muscatel and the perhaps over-hyped Makaibari Silver Tips (it’s considered a sin to add milk and sugar to a Darjeeling, by the way). They also serve about thirty different types of iced tea, from orange-mint to watermelon. But those are just kid-stuff. Source: Outlook India

Tea workers fear lean season hindrance to tea wage negotiation

 Trade unions fear that if tea wages for Dooars workers are not revised before Diwali, planters may delay the negotiation and extend it to next year citing the three-month lean season starting from November.

Around 2.5 lakh tea workers are yet to get the new scale to be revised from the existing Rs 67 per day.

The trade unions had been insisting on Rs 90 a day like the hill workers, a proposal that has been shot down by planters who have argued that Darjeeling Tea is sold at a much higher price than CTC, which is grown in the Dooars. So, the salary of hill workers could not be compared with those in the plains.

“We had been waiting eagerly for Durga Puja to end and want the wages to be finalised at the earliest. It would be best if it is settled before Diwali, which is around 20 days away,” said Aloke Chakraborty, the Darjeeling district president of Intuc, the trade union of the Congress.

“If no decision is reached till Diwali and the current month ends, it will be difficult for us to negotiate as the lean season will commence from November. Planters, who will not earn during these months because of halt in production, may delay the negotiation till the next season starting in March 2012,” said Chakraborty.

The current wages are paid on the basis of a three-year tripartite agreement signed in 2008.

It expired on March 31 this year and since then there had been seven rounds of unsuccessful tripartite talks. The last was held on the first week of September.

“During the course of the negotiation, we brought down our demands considerably but the planters have refused to relent even then,” said Sukra Munda, the chairperson of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union

“Given the trend of talks, we doubt whether any agreement will be signed at all in the coming lean season. It is best to bargain and convince planters in the next 15-20 days to agree to a revised scale, that is, before Diwali and immediately after Puja.”

The state labour department has called another round of tripartite talks on October 13.

“We are now hoping that the talks succeed as already six months of the current fiscal has passed. Workers want an early solution, as they are aware that their counterparts in the Darjeeling hills are earning Rs 90 a day. They will surely get arrears as the new agreement will be effective from April 1, 2011 but it is a test of patience,” said Samir Roy, convener of the Defence Committee for Plantation Workers Rights, an apex body of tea trade unions.

Planters, however, said the gardens had suffered considerably in the September 18 earthquake.

“Most of the gardens in the Terai and the Dooars have suffered damage and some have incurred losses worth crores,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association. “Regarding settlement of wages, we were never reluctant to negotiate. We had already submitted detailed information to the state government about the expenses incurred to run a tea estate.”

“It is not the question of lean season but the affordability of the tea companies that has to be kept in mind. The trade unions should rationalise their demands. We too had proposed a revised wage and do not want to drag on the issue. We are hopeful of a positive outcome at the meeting called by the state labour department next week,” he added.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea prices higher as domestic market increases

Despite a higher crop and lower exports this year, domestic tea prices have continued to hold firm. One of the prime reasons for firm price trends was a spurt in domestic demand, Mr Peter Mathias, Chairman of the UPASI Tea Committee said.

The poorer global tea production, catalyzed by adverse weather patterns, has not helped prop up domestic prices as exports continue to reign low. Latest reports indicate that Kenyan crop continues to reign lower by 31.3 million kg, Indonesia by 8.5 million kg, Uganda by 5.3 million kg and South India by 4.3 million kg.

In contrast, North India was one of the few regions which registered an increase in tea production during the current year. While South India recorded a shortfall in tea production, North India recorded a growth of 38 million kg over last year. This has enabled the country's production to grow by 33.7 million kg during January-August.

South Indian tea production till September is also likely to be lower since it was hampered by consistent rains and lower sunshine days, Mr N. Sanjith, Head of Commodities of the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI), said. Heavy rains in the first three weeks of last month hampered plucking operations.

Although the quantum of exports has fallen, the value realization has been looking up. During January-August, tea exports fell by 14.9 million kg, of which North India contributed 11.8 million kg even as South Indian exports fell by 3.1 million kg.

Tea export prices have recovered the most. Average tea export prices were up by Rs 14.19 a kg over last year's Rs 144.77 a kg. The prime reason for lower exports was disturbances in some of India's principal export destinations. Lower exports to Pakistan and Iran during the first half of the year also contributed to the fall. However, sources in UPASI said the association expected the export momentum to pick up in the coming months.

In the domestic market, average price realisation of South Indian tea till the middle of September this year was higher by Rs 2.53 a kg over last year's Rs 69.27 a kg. Orthodox teas continued to fetch a handsome premium over CTC grades at South Indian auctions.

Source: Business line

Trade unions affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad have threatened to impose an indefinite embargo on the dispatch of tea from gardens in the Dooars and the Terai if the wages of the tea workers of the region are not revised in the meeting which is scheduled to be held on October 13.

A similar tea embargo was levied on Darjeeling tea gardens by the GJMM in the Darjeeling hills in regard to hike in tea laborer wages. This finally got sorted out by an increase of Rs. 23.00 which touched Rs. 90 when the demand was for Rs. 120-154.

Significantly, the trade unions of the tea workers have decided to attend the tripartite meeting.

Birsha Tirkey, president of ABAVP, said, “In last three months, we have attended more than five tripartite meetings, but the issue is yet to be resolved. The October 13 meeting will be the last meeting we will be attending. If the management does not agree to our demands, we will stall the dispatch and there will be indefinite strike in the tea gardens in the Terai and the Dooars region.”

There are 204 tea gardens in the Terai and Dooars region. Workers of these tea gardens spearheaded the agitation to demand higher daily wage. The garden workers in the plains are currently paid Rs 67 a day according to an agreement reached between planters and trade unions three years ago. The duration of the deal ended on March 31 and all negotiations held so far to fix a new wage have failed to reach a consensus. On the other hand, the laborers in the Darjeeling Tea gardens get Rs 90 a day.

“We will hold meetings in front of the gates of each tea garden in the Terai and the Dooars after the Pujas demanding immediate fixing of wages,” said the ABAVP leader. “We will not agree for less than Rs 91 per day deal and we want our payment on a retrospective basis since April,” said Tirkey.

The planters in the plains had offered a hike of Rs 8 every year so that the wage would reach Rs 91 in 2013 from the current Rs 67. But the unions rejected the offer outright and wanted the garden owners to come forward with fresh proposals. The offers were made at tripartite meetings convened by the state labour department. The garden owners said halt in the dispatch of tea and slow work would cripple the industry.

The meeting on October 13 will be attended by three cabinet ministers including state Commerce & Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee.

Express News Service

Indian consumers on high grade Darjeeling Tea

KOLKATA: Darjeeling tea industry is in a happy mood. After years of promotion, domestic consumers have started picking up premium Darjeeling tea. This will partly reduce the worries of Darjeeling tea producers who depend mainly on export for revenue.

Annually, Darjeeling produces nearly 10 million kg tea. Of this, 40% earns the maximum revenues as they are largely exported. The rest is rain teas that generally do not fetch good prices in the world market.

"We are seeing that Indian consumers are now ready to pay higher prices for Darjeeling Tea. This is a great achievement. We have been trying to sell Darjeeling teas in the domestic market for sometime now. We were even thinking of blending the rain teas with the premium quality and market it for domestic consumption," said Sanjay Bansal, chairman of Ambootia Group, the second-largest Darjeeling tea producer in the country.

The industry feels that this will bring down the worries of the Darjeeling planters in a big way. "The impact of recession or any other financial crisis in Europe will not hit their bottomline," said an industry analyst. However, the export market is also shining bright for Darjeeling teas this year. Harrods of Knightsbridge has picked up 20% more while Twinings has placed inquiries with the tea companies. Japanese buyers like Mitsui too have placed orders. Strong demand from overseas has pushed up the prices of Darjeeling teas at auctions by Rs 10-15 per kg.

"There is a huge demand among the buyers of organic teas. Those gardens that produce organic teas are fetching good prices in the global market. In general, prices of tea are ruling firm," Bansal added.

Last year, Darjeeling tea had suffered a fall in production due to a drought-like situation in the hills. This year, production of tea has increased due to favorable weather. "Last year, production got affected due to a drought-like situation. We lost the premium first- and second-flush teas, which fetch maximum revenues for the tea companies. Revenue-wise, this year will be better than last year," said Ashok Lohia, chairman of Chamong Tee, the largest Darjeeling tea producer in the country.

Last year, Darjeeling had produced 8 million kg tea, which was the lowest in the last decade.

Source: Economic Times

HML has introduced Surya CTC Tea

Kochi, Oct. 2: Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML) has introduced Surya Tea, a mark for its bulk CTC tea to be sold in the Cochin Auction Centre of the Cochin Tea Trade Association. This new mark is made from leaves produced in the Nilgiri-Wayanad region. Surya is a premium quality CTC tea produced primarily keeping the Kerala consumer in mind.

In Kerala, consumers pay a premium for dust grade CTC teas that are known for strength and colour. Surya has been launched keeping with the company's strategy of having one premium mark / brand from each of its production regions.

The company produces 15-18 million kg of tea annually from all its gardens in South India. While the HML has tea-growing areas in High Range (Munnar) and Vandiperiyaar in Idukki District, the main growing region for the company is located in the Wayanad region of North Kerala and the adjoining Nilgiri-Wayanad tea district, where the company has more than 7,500 acres of mature tea.

Source: Business Line

Tea-ing off at the national level

The Vattatharas were black coffee addicts. So were the other inhabitants of village Kongorpilly in Kerala's Ernakulam district. It was inevitable; almost everyone grew Arabica coffee beans in their backyard. That was 40 years ago when VM Thomas, head of Don Bosco Institute in Guwahati, left his village to pursue priesthood.His father, a schoolteacher, was confident that Thomas' missionary zeal would help take coffee to new frontiers. But, "I converted instead, from a hardcore coffee drinker to a regular tea drinker," said Thomas, 60.

Thomas' switchover is understandable. He has spent over 30 years in a state synonymous with tea - Assam. "But it beats me how almost everyone in my village has taken to tea," Thomas said.

For tea industry captains, barring the odd Nilgiri planter, Kongorpilly isn't likely to ring a bell. But the village's surrender to the cup that cheers - and of 593,730 other villages plus 4,378 urban areas across India (2001 census) - is one of several reasons behind their demand for granting national drink status to tea.

With over 83% households addicted to tea, the beverage is unofficially India's 'national drink'. The official tag, planters argue, would ensure better brand value and help promote it as a health drink, with or without (Darjeeling Tea, an asset of the Indian tea industry supposed to be best had without milk) milk and sugar (butter too, in some cases - in Darjeeling where the Tibetans are used to this custom). Most importantly, a national drink is an integral part of a nation's identity, self-image, history, ecology and culture, they assert.

Leading the crusade for the national drink status is the North East Tea Association (NETA), headquartered in the tea-rich Golaghat district of eastern Assam. "India should learn from Pakistan, which had ages ago identified sugarcane juice as its national drink. Or from tea-growing major China, where green tea is a national drink," said NETA chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty.

"New Delhi should at least learn from Britain that does not produce tea but considers the beverage, invariably sourced from India, a national drink. It is funny that India, despite producing the widest range of teas for 180 years, is yet to give it a special status," Barkakoty added.

Planters underscore the irony that even Assam - the state accounts for 50% of India's annual tea yield - never felt the need to declare tea as a state drink. In 2005, the state identified the rhino as its state animal and the white-winged wood duck as its state bird but went dry when it came to the drink.

"That's why we met chief minister Tarun Gogoi recently to impress upon the need to give tea the respect it deserves," said NETA member JK Singhania. "The state drink status can be the stepping stone to tea becoming India's national drink."

State industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi admitted the government faltered in not giving the due to a drink that has made Assam a household name in at least half the world. "We shall be according the state drink status to tea soon," he said.

Most of India swore by home-made alcoholic brews until the arrival of tea, 'discovered' growing wild in Assam by Robert Bruce. The Englishman took the credit for what the Singpho tribal people inhabiting adjoining areas of eastern Assam and western Arunachal Pradesh had been drinking for ages.

The first consignment of tea (350 pounds) was dispatched to Britain on 8 May 1838 and sold at India House, London, on 10 January 1839. Britons developed a taste for the beverage and voted out coffee procured from other colonies. It's time, tea growers and drinkers agree, India voted in tea as the country's national drink.

Source: Hindustan Times

Army praise over bridge construction in Darjeeling

Darjeeling: The army’s commendable job in putting together a 140-feet bridge over Lebong Cart Road which was devasted by a landslide causing a cave-in. The road connected Lebong and several Darjeeling Tea gardens. Within 24 hours of a landslide, the army has raised the pitch for handing over NH55 to the Border Roads Organisation.

The 113 engineering regiment had started constructing the bridge yesterday morning and by this afternoon district magistrate Saumitra Mohan was able to drive his car across it along with Brigader Ravi Raut, the commanding officer.

The public works department had said earlier that it would take around two to three months to permanently restore Lebong Cart Road that was damaged in a landslide on Monday. Till the PWD completes its job, the bridge will connect Darjeeling to Singamari, Tukvar, Singla, Lebong and Jorethang in Sikkim.

The swiftness with which the army completed the job prompted even the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to demand that NH55 should be handed over to the BRO just like NH31A, which connects Siliguri with Gangtok.

NH55 links Darjeeling to Siliguri.

The BRO looks after the Siliguri-Gangtok stretch and despite numerous landslides along the route, the army always managed to clear debris in a short span of time, the Morcha said.

Trilok Dewan, the Morcha’s MLA from Darjeeling, said: “NH55 is in a mess and it is clear that the National Highways Authority is finding it difficult to maintain the road which is very important for Darjeeling. This road must be handed over to the BRO which is much more efficient.”

National Highway 55 or Hill Cart Road has been closed for most of the time since June 2010 and with a fresh landslide on Thursday near Tindharia, after which a stretch of the road caved in, there is little chance of the road opening this year.

“Alternative routes like Pankhabari, Rohini, Mungpoo or Mirik had not been constructed to handle heavy vehicles and since the national highway is closed, these roads are in a terrible condition because heavy vehicles are forced to ply on these routes,” said Dewan.

The Morcha leader added that he had raised the issue of handing over NH55 to the BRO with Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan during his recent visit to the hill town.

“I have requested him to look into the matter,” said Dewan, who is also a member of the board of administrators of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

He added that DGHC had also sent a Rs 194 crore proposal to the state to construct an alternative highway to NH55 through Bungkulung in Mirik.

“I had also suggested that the construction and repair of the alternative road should be taken up by the BRO. I hope Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh takes up the matter with the appropriate authorities in Delhi,” said Dewan.

The MLA said he would ask the NH-IX division to attend the DGHC board meeting on October 15.

“We want to know in detail about the state of the highway and how long it would take to restore the patch if they start work immediately,” said Dewan.

Source: The Telegraph