KISHANGANJ: India has the distinction of being the largest producer and consumer of tea in the world. The North-East region, mainly Assam and West Bengal, produces more than 50 per cent of the total production of the tea in the country. Despite stiff competition and dominance of the Darjeeling and Assam varieties, known all over the world for centuries, Bihar tea is spreading its wings to traditional Indian tea market as well as emerging global market.
Rated as on par with Assam tea, several Bihar brands such as Rajbari tea and Kishanbari tea are emerging as a popular brand among Indian consumers. Today brand Rajbari is identified with quality, consistency and reliability catering diverse variety of authentic Indian black tea. The Rajbari is supplied to the Border Security Force (BSF) throughout West Bengal and Bihar.
The tea gardens of Bihar situated in Kishanganj district, involves over 1000 small and medium planters employing about 30,000 people. As per an estimate Bihar tea weighs over four million kilograms annual market in India.
Kishanganj pioneered tea plantations thanks to the efforts of some enterprising investors who began plantations in 1992-93. The plantations accelerated in 1999 when the Tea Board of India under its “New Area Development Scheme” declared five blocks of – Pothia, Kishanganj, Bahdaurganj, Thakurganj and Dighalbank as “non-traditional area” for growing tea and announced a subsidy of Rs 40, 000 per hectare towards cost of tea plantation.
In 1998, Rajiv Lochan, a tea garden manager, decided to plant new tea bushes on a small plot of land. Many said that the land was ‘useless’. But Rajiv persisted and now his company is marketing organically produced Doke Teas in North America.
Rajiv, having more than 65 acres of land under tea plantation today, is selling organically produced tea worldwide at a premium price, branding it as “special White teas from the Land of Buddha”.
Five new tea processing units have come up in recent years due to surge in demand and increase in production. However, the high cost of production and equally high demand has pitched the price of Bihar varieties on par with the well known Assam CTC variety.
The potential of tea plantation is huge but the state’s industry department is yet to formulate its Tea Promotion Policy. Higher revenues can only accrue, when state laws help in boosting production. The absence of a favorable state policy still impedes investment by big planters,” said Shadab Ahmed, an entrepreneur involved in the tea business since 2005.
Though the government has laid emphasis on encouraging investments in food-processing and agro-based industries, its involvement to promote the nascent tea industry in Bihar has been lackadaisical, alleges Ahmed.
An official from state’s industry department said the government, under the new industry policy, is providing capital subsidy of 15 per cent (subject to Rs 20 lakh) for setting up tea processing units in Bihar. Apart from this, tea processing units will be given 30 per cent drawback in lieu of sales-tax paid by the units.”
However, the members of Bihar Tea Planters Association are not impressed. They want suitable amendments to the Tea Act, 1953. The Association has also demanded inclusion of an official of the Bihar government in the Tea Board as its member.
Rajkaran Daftari, secretary of the Association, is demanding formulation of a policy on the lines of Assam and West Bengal.
“A Tea Park with modern tea processing and packaging facility should also be setup,” Rajkiran said besides demanding subsidy on equipments related to the plantation and processing of tea.
“Land Ceiling Act is also a great hurdle for tea growers in Bihar,” he added.
“The growers pay nearly Rs 25 lakh as sales tax to the state government. The industry would contribute over Rs 50 lakh as revenue to the state when the GST replaces VAT from April next year,” said an Association member.
Tea plantation in Bihar would not just open a new vista, but also generate employment on a big scale and help augment the economy of the state. A recent survey of the tea industry in Bihar has estimated that it can generate 80.30 lakhs man days of work annually if the potential tea coverage area is doubled.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on his recent visit to the district, had said that his government was contemplating announcing a policy for the promotion of tea cultivation in this district bordering West Bengal. But nothing concrete has come out.