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Thursday, Oct 10, 2002

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Govt to offer subsidy to Darjeeling tea trade — Move to prevent misuse of brand name

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THE Union Government is willing to give some subsidy to the cash-starved Darjeeling tea industry.

This was stated by Mr Basudev Banerjee, Deputy Chairman of Tea Board, at the 14th annual general meeting of the Darjeeling Planters' Association (DPA). Both Mr Banerjee and industry representatives agreed that the Darjeeling tea industry was facing a grim situation.

``We are willing to help the industry by giving more subsidy but for that the Darjeeling tea industry will have to come up with a specific scheme,'' Mr Banerjee told reporters after the meeting.

The industry has been complaining that the non-cash component of production cost has increased sharply. Moreover, infrastructure facilities as schools, electricity and roads are also being maintained by the industry.

``The Tea Board has initiated a dialogue with the Indian Tea Association. We are eager to give some help to the industry in some of the infrastructure-related projects. However, talks are at an initial stage and nothing has been finalised,'' he said.

Misuse of the Darjeeling brand name also came up at the meeting. Mr K.S. David, the outgoing Chairman of DPA, said it was a crucial issue for the survival of the industry. At present, the word Darjeeling and the logo is registered under the Trade Mark Act as Certification Trade Mark (CTM). A move is afoot to get it registered also under the Geographical Indications Act. Mr Banerjee said though the Act had already been passed some time back, the rules and regulations were framed only this year. ``We are ready with the application of Darjeeling tea,'' he said.

Once Darjeeling tea is registered both under the G.I Act and CTM, the industry can protect it against misuse anywhere in the world, he added.

The average age of Darjeeling tea bushes is almost 100 years, which constitutes another major problem. Apart from the financial constraint for replantation, non-availability of better clones is also a blockade.

``The R&D centre of the tea industry is not functioning properly as there is hardly any efficient manpower. We have decided to increase the manpower so that the centre can come up as a real research wing,'' he said.

According to Mr David, the cost of producing Darjeeling tea has escalated but the price it fetched remained stagnant both in the domestic and overseas markets. As a result, the industry was ``deteriorating and crops reducing''.

Among the suggestions he made was that the industry must stop signing ``unreasonable and unwarranted agreements'' with labour unions for peace. The second suggestion was related to benchmarking quality and fixing a realistic price. He also strongly felt that the Government had an important role to play in promoting Darjeeling tea, both in India and abroad.

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