PALAMPUR, HP: The aroma of tea is going to waft across the picturesque Kangra valley once again, with fresh stimulus from the central and state governments to revive the over 150-year-old tea industry in the region.
"We are going to revive the Kangra tea industry in a big way by encouraging growers to rejuvenate and expand their tea gardens," Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told IANS.
Tea cultivation was introduced in and around the Palampur foothills in the Kangra valley in the mid-19th century. The Camellia tea, planted by the British in 1849, grew so popular that tea from Kangra won a gold medal at an exhibition in London in 1886 for its superb flavour and quality.
However, a major earthquake that hit the area in 1905 destroyed a large number of tea gardens and tea factories. Thereafter, most of the European planters left, handing over their tea estates to the Indians.
A severe drought in 1999 and lifting of trade barriers, which allowed other countries to push their supplies at a much lower cost, adversely affected the local tea industry.
Horticulture experts say tea production in Kangra has seen a drastic fall in the past 15 years with only small producers, with an average holding of around 0.6 acres, engaging in tea plantation.
Currently, with only a total of 1,000 hectares under tea cultivation, the state produces 850,000 kg of tea per year. The government plans to increase production to a minimum of 2.5 million kilograms in the next few years.
"The government would provide better rootstock varieties of the same Chinese strain that was once introduced by the British. For this, the central government has agreed, in principle, to extend both technical and financial assistance to the state," Dhumal, who also holds the agriculture portfolio, said.
A.K. Mangotra, additional secretary in the commerce ministry who visited the hill state earlier this month, said: "The ministry would assist the state not only in rejuvenating the old tea estates (in the valley) but also increasing cultivation in Chamba and Mandi districts."
State Agriculture Secretary Ram Subhag Singh said 12,000 hectares would be brought under tea cultivation in Mandi and Chamba districts.
The government will also promote organic tea, he said.
"There is simple economics behind boosting organic tea. If an ordinary tea is fetching Rs.100 to Rs.120 per kg in the wholesale market, organic tea fetches more than Rs.400," he said.
The government is developing an organic tea estate over an area of 150 hectares in the CSK Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya campus here.
Singh said the government is providing Rs.450,000 to the growers to replace the old plants with new, improved root stocks.
The central government has also decided to set up a regional office of the Tea Board of India in Palampur.
All these have raised hopes among tea cultivators.
"The tea industry is at present passing through a severe recession. Tea gardens are facing closure due to high inputs, including labour. Now, we hope that lost glory will gradually begin to come back," said Kunj Behari Lal Butail, a leading tea grower in the valley.