Separatist protests in West Bengal could ruin tea time for many as production of the world famous Darjeeling tea was halted.
India’s ethnic Gurkhas were up in arms for the past week, demanding a separate political and administrative state in the Darjeeling hills which will be named ‘Gorkhaland’.
The protests have taken over roads, closing shops and restaurants, forcing the shutdown of the Darjeeling district where one of the finest teas in the world is produced.
The Indian Tea Association held crisis talks after economic activity ground to a halt, threatening stocks of the floral-scented tea leaves.
The association said it was considering using armed convoys to ensure the precious leaves can get from plantations to ports or warehouses.
Food and fuel are also growing scarce in tea plantations. Moreover, factories have limited storage space.
“There is a capacity limit of the factories to store their produce. If this continues for another three to four days, plucking will have to be completely stopped,” SS Bagaria, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association, told the Press Trust of India.
The economic shutdown could mean losing two months of tea production across 74 operational tea plantations.
“It’s an extremely worrisome situation,” said Manojit Dasgupta, the secretary-general of the Indian Tea Association.
“At risk is the entire July and August production of Darjeeling tea, amounting to nearly 3,000 tonnes.”
Nick Gandon, the director of the UK-based Reginald Ames tea merchants and brokers, said the protests in Darjeeling would inevitably disrupt the market and could push up prices of the tea.
“Production is still continuing but it’s only going to go on for a little while longer because everyone’s coal stocks are running pretty low,” he said.
“As soon as they run out, they’re not going to be able to manufacture and that’s going to have an impact on prices.”
Darjeeling tea is exported to Europe, Japan and the US. The UK is one of the biggest markets for the 10 million kg of Darjeeling produced each year.
by Maesie Bertumen
Photo: Thunderbolt Tea/Flickr