Tripura may soon get a tea auction centre as the Tea Board of India is actively considering such a centre.
Tripura Tea Development Corporation (TTDC), Chairman Santosh Saha said, "The Tea Board of India informed us that it was actively considering to set up a tea auction centre in Tripura. Now we need to build up a warehouse to support it".
He said the auction centre could be set up at Dharmanagar, the headquarters of the North district, so that tea planters from neighbouring Karimganj and Cachar district of Assam also could sell their tea besides the planters from Tripura.
“Tripura has always had a problem in auctioning tea as there is no auction centre in the state. Tripura Chief Minister Manik Saha and the former chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb had asked the Government of India to take up with Bangladesh so that planters from Tripura can auction their produce at Sreemangal, which is just 10 km from northern Tripura border with Bangladesh,” Saha said.
The move to set up a Tripura auction centre possibly comes as a bid to stall the move to switch the auction business to a neighbouring country.
However, Saha said, “Even as our relation with Bangladesh is very cordial they have placed Indian tea on the negative list. Moreover, there is high excise duty on Indian tea which should be removed. A strong vested interest group is active so that our tea cannot be auctioned at Sreemangal.”
Replying to a question, he said, "Even if we get a Tea auction centre in our state, we would also try to get access to Sreemangal tea auction centre for better transportation and to reach a wider market".
Currently, growers here depend on far away auction centres in Guwahati and Kolkata to sell their produce, increasing the costs. Till the 1965 war with Pakistan when travel and trade between the two neighbouring countries was easy, Tripura tea used to be sold through the Chittagong auction centre and exported out of the port there. The war and subsequent rift in trade ties disrupted this arrangement.
Manager of the Laxmi Tea Company, Manas Bhattacharya said the absence of a tea auction centre in Tripura is a major hurdle for sending the produce to the country’s main markets or to export tea abroad.
Planters hope that if they can sell through Sreemangal auction centre, then exports could also happen through Bangladesh's Ashuganj or Chittagong ports.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Saha said his government has initiated a process to set up a tea auction centre in the state and wants to help the industry flourish as it generates employment opportunities rapidly.
Tripura produces 9-10 lakh kg of tea annually and planters are now focusing on organic variety to get a better price, officials said.
Tripura has some 60 tea gardens - 42 of which are individually owned, 13 are run by cooperative societies and three by the TTDC. Besides, there are nearly 3,000 small tea growers in the northeastern state.
Interestingly, Tripura's gardens were pioneered by Indian tea entrepreneurs as the then ruler of the state, Maharaja Birendra Kishore Manikya, had a policy of not allowing British planters to buy land in his state.
The agro-climatic condition is favourable for tea production in Tripura. Now we have got a logo approved for Tripura tea, to compete with Assam and Darjeeling tea as well as other established brands, Saha said.
The state-run Tripura Tea Development Corporation is also trying to directly retail tea by selling 'Tripureswari' branded packets and reaching out to people through the public distribution system (PDS), officials said.
Tea production began in Tripura at the Hiracherra tea estate in Unakoti district in 1916. As per latest reports, 6,885 hectares of land is under tea cultivation in the state, officials said.
The north eastern state currently produces over 3.58 crore kg green tea leaf annually.
Saha said more than 50,000 workers are engaged in the tea industry in the state.
He said as a mark of respect and to safeguard their traditional culture the state government has installed the statue of Birsa Munda, freedom fighter and tribal leader, in a tea garden in Khowai district which would be unveiled on Nov 15 and the statue of Sidhu and Kanu, leaders of the Santhal rebellion, were installed at Brahmakunda tea garden, about 25 km here which would be unveiled later this month.
Also read | The fascinating tea history of Tripura