World

Darjeeling unrest threatens shortage of prized tea

DARJEELING, INDIA: The world faces a shortage of the prized Darjeeling tea because of deadly unrest in the idyllic Indian Himalayan foothills, where it is grown.

The June-August harvest season normally provides the bulk of the nearly 8 million kg of tea sold a year.

But with a showdown between native Gurkhas, who provide the majority of plantation workers, and the West Bengal government now 50 days old, production fell by 90 per cent in June.

Tourism has also been badly hit by the dispute, in which the main Gurkha group has halted harvesting and called for a shutdown of the tea industry.

There have been predictions that prices could rise more than 20 per cent and some tea gardens could take years to recover.

"This year's harvest is lost," Mr Sanjay Mittal, director of Ambiok Tea estate, said, adding that "if the stalemate ends, we hope to return next year".

But Mr Ankit Lochan, president of the Siliguri Tea Traders Association, said that if the strike continues for another few months, "almost 50 per cent of the estates will close down for at least two to three years".

Tea Board India, the regulatory body, said only 140,000kg of tea was produced in June, a plunge from the 1.33 million kg in the same month last year.

The latest flare-up started after the government ordered Bengali lessons in state schools, angering the ethnic Gurkhas, who speak Nepali.- AFP

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