Tata Consumer Products (TCP) today said it does not “directly import” tea from Nepal. The company was reacting to reports published in The Statesman about some tea garden officials and a Rajya Sabha MP writing to both the central and state governments on the alleged adverse effects of tea import from Nepal on the domestic tea industry.
It is also alleged that TCP blended tea originating in Nepal with Indian tea and sold in India. A statement issued by the company today said that it procured all the teas for its India brands from the Indian domestic market and by following government regulations.
“Tata Consumer Products does not directly import any tea from Nepal. All our tea procurement for our India brands is only from teas traded in the Indian domestic markets as per Government regulations only. This could include a certain amount of teas produced in Nepal and available in the local market as per Government regulations. This tea is available to and purchased by a cross-section of buyers and packers in the country,” the statement said.
The Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA) has recently written to the Tea Board of India and other authorities concerned about taking action against Nepal tea, which it said was being imported without import duty, and which had affected the Darjeeling tea business over the past few years.
The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) has also written to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, urging her to take steps to “save” the Darjeeling tea industry. Similarly, the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA) also raised the problem of Nepal tea and written to state labour minister Becharam Manna.
TIPA, in its letter to the Tea Board, mentions: “One of the members of TIPA lodged a specific complaint with the Tea Board of India on 23 February and 25 June this year against Tata Consumer Products for blending and packing teas originating in Nepal with Indian teas and selling them in India under the brand name Tata Gold.”
In response to the complaint, the Controller of Licensing, Tea Board of India, Rajanigandha Seal Naskar, has asked that member of TIPA provide supporting documents to prove his claim so that action against the TCP can be taken for alleged violation of the Tea Board rules if the allegations were true.
On the other hand, in a letter to Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, Trinamul Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Darjeeling, Shanta Chhetri, has recently said that the director of Darjeeling-based Ringtong Tea, S.Choudhry, has lodged a specific complaint with the Tea Board against TCP for blending and packing teas originating in Nepal with Indian teas and selling them in India the brand name of Tata Gold.
Several Darjeeling planters here alleged that most tea growers in Nepal do not comply with the Plant Protection Code and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulations. A TCP spokesperson, in the statement, further said: “Tata Consumer Products is among the largest buyers of teas in India, and is among the very largest buyers from key tea centres such as Darjeeling, Siliguri, Guwahati, Kolkata, Coonoor, Cochin & Coimbatore.
The company is a strong supporter of the Indian tea industry and, for almost two decades, the Tata Tea Gold brand has chosen to be a strong source of support to the Darjeeling tea industry for whom it has been the single largest buyer.”
“Tata Consumer produces over 160 million kgs of India’s finest blends of tea, utilising a variety of teas, all of which meet existing FSSAI regulations and standards, and all our blends are subjected to our own stringent quality standards,” the statement added.
Asked to comment, the Chairman, Darjeeling Tea Association, BK Saria, on the other hand, said: “Darjeeling tea industry is going to finish due to Nepal tea, which is being imported and smuggled to India. Most of the retailers across the state are buying and selling them as Darjeeling tea. As a result, the demand for original Darjeeling tea is less in the domestic market.”
“This is my statement which I mentioned in a letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal. I did not blame any organisation like the Tea Board or Tata Consumer Products on this issue,” Mr Saria added.
However, Chairman of the Indian Tea Exporters’ Association (ITEA) Anshuman Kanoria, a planter associated with the Jungpana and Goomti tea plantations, said: “The person lodged a complaint against the TCP out of his vested interests, and not in the interest of the Darjeeling tea industry. Such an allegation is most unfortunate. As TCP is a big buyer of Darjeeling tea, we should instead, encourage it, and not attack with a baseless charge.”
“There is a demand for the famous Darjeeling tea during the first flush and the second flush. The demand is less after the second. Besides blaming big buyers, we should lay more focus on the issue of duty-free import of Nepal
tea and the issue of FSSAI regulations in the interest of Darjeeling tea,” Mr Kanoria added.