The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has taken serious note of the influx of fake Darjeeling tea from Nepal; and has recommended reviewing and revisiting the Indo-Nepal treaty to incorporate stringent requirements for certificate of origin on such tea imports.

Tabling its 171st report on issues affecting the Indian tea industry, especially in the Darjeeling region, the panel headed by V. Vijayasai Reddy asked the Government to undertake strong and vigilant measures to counter the import of low quality and cheap tea from neighbouring countries. It sought establishment of an NABL accredited Quality Control Lab in Darjeeling to ensure imports conform to set quality standards.

The panel also called for an investigation by the Directorate-General of Trade Remedies into the dumping of teas from Nepal and suggested remedial measures, including imposition of anti-dumping duty on imported tea.

Diluting brand image

The Committee said the unhampered influx of substandard tea from Nepal is jeopardising the domestic industry. Inferior imports from Nepal were being sold and re-exported as premium Darjeeling Tea, which was not only affecting India’s global brand image, but also impacting domestic prices. Import of poor quality produce posed a threat to tea production and the livelihood of small growers in the region.

GI tagged Darjeeling Tea -- known as the ‘Champagne of Teas’ -- yields a high export price. However, production has been hit by various issues, including dumping of substandard and spurious tea from neighbouring countries, especially Nepal, delay in release of subsidies, low wages and absenteeism by labourers.r

Wrongful branding of large volumes of inferior tea from Nepal as Darjeeling tea, was unercutting the premium price commanded by authentic Darjeeling tea in the global markets.

Of the total tea imports of 27.75 million kg to India in FY21, the contribution from Nepal was 10.74 million kg, compared to 7.29 million kg in FY20.

Wage revision for tea workers

The Committee has also taken serious note of the meagre wages of tea workers in Darjeeling and other areas of North Bengal. The panel asked the Government to make every effort for an upward revision of wages and fixing of a minimum daily wage for tea workers.

The Committee noted the abject working and living conditions of tea labourers, which was reminiscent of the indentured labour introduced in colonial times by British planters. It notes the blatant violation of socio-economic justice wherein labourers, a large percentage of whom are female workers, have to endure an abysmal and dismal life with no access to basic amenities and living standards.

There are also recommendations for a financial package from the government as a revival mechanism for the Darjeeling tea sector for extending special assistance to modernise and mechanise the tea industries in collaboration with financial institutions of Nabard.