At a time when Darjeeling tea price is ruling high in the domestic market, orthodox tea from Nepal, which tastes similar to that of the Darjeeling variety, is making inroads into the market through private selling.
Industry sources said the Nepal crop costs half of the Darjeeling variety and is a favourite with retailers as it helps them sell tea close to that of Darjeeling at a much lower price. But industry sources admitted it is difficult to ascertain what amount of Nepal tea is entering the Indian market as the crop is sold through private selling.
At a few retail counters in Kolkata, Nepal tea is available at Rs 400-500 per kg while Darjeeling orthodox of a similar quality would cost buyers around Rs 1,000 per kg.
Indian Tea Association estimates show that almost 6.5 million kg tea has been imported from Nepal during the January-October period last year. According to a vision 2020 report of the Nepal Tea Crop Global Development Alliance, almost a million tonne of orthodox Nepal tea enters India.
Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the tea board of India, said, ?Small amount of tea from Nepal comes into India and that is completely legal. According to Indo-Nepal treaty, produce from Nepal can come into India at zero duty.?
?Nepal leaves used to come into Darjeeling and manufactured there as Darjeeling. But we have been very strict on this and that has stopped,? he said.
The agro-climatic conditions of the Nepalese eastern Himalayas are similar to the Indian tea producing areas such as Darjeeling. Orthodox tea grown in 3,000-7,000 ft is processed to produce a variety with lighter colour, better flavour and good aroma. A few years back Nepal tea was sold as Darjeeling tea but that was stopped after the Tea Board was successful in protecting Geographical Indication registration of Darjeeling tea in France and US.
While the Tea board has been successful in stopping the Darjeeling gardens from buying tea from Nepal in order to maintain quality of Darjeeling tea, there is no provision to stop bought leaf factories from buying tea from Nepal.
Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of the Darjeeling branch of Darjeeling Tea Association, said: ?We are constantly monitoring 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling. No garden is buying tea from Nepal. But Nepalese tea is being sold to the bought leaf factories in Siliguri.?
In fact, Nepalese tea from gardens like Antu Valley, Sri Antu Valley, Guranassi and Malum enter India via Mirik and are headed for processing in the bought leaf factories in Siliguri, 80 kms away from Darjeeling.