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Tea was first introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. The British, “using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export.” Tea was originally only consumed by Anglicized Indians, and it was not until the 1950s that tea grew widely popular in India through a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board. Prior to the British, the plant may have been used for medicinal purposes. Some cite the Sanjeevani tea plant first recorded reference of tea use in India. However, studies have shown that Sanjeevani plant was likely a plant unrelated to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and more likely refers to either Selaginella bryopteris or Desmotrichum fimbriatum.
In the early 1820s, the British East India Company began large-scale production of tea in Assam, India, of a tea variety traditionally brewed by the Singpho tribe. In 1826, the British East India Company took over the region from the Ahom kings through the Yandaboo Treaty. In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam; in 1840, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea in the region, run by indentured servitude of the local inhabitants. Beginning in the 1850s, the tea industry rapidly expanded, consuming vast tracts of land for tea plantations. By the turn of the century, Assam became the leading tea producing region in the world.
Writing in The Cambridge World History of Food’, Weisburger & Comer write:
“The tea cultivation begun there [India] in the nineteenth century by the British, however, has accelerated to the point that today India is listed as the world’s leading producer, its 715,000 tons well ahead of China’s 540,000 tons, and of course, the teas of Assam, Ceylon (from the island nation known as Sri Lanka), and Darjeeling are world famous. However, because Indians average half a cup daily on per capita basis, fully 70 percent of India’s immense crop is consumed locally.” Modern tea production in India
India was the top producer of tea for nearly a century, but recently China has overtaken India as the top tea producer due to increased land availability. Indian tea companies have acquired a number of iconic foreign tea enterprises including British brands Tetley and Typhoo. India is also the world’s largest tea-drinking nation. However, the per capita consumption of tea in India remains a modest 750 grams per person every year due to the large population base and high chhass(A milk product) consumption.
Recently the consumption of Green tea has seen a great growth potential in India. The market is growing by over 50% y-o-y and is expected to reach a size of INR 6000 crore form its current size in year 2013 of approx. INR 1500 crore.This is primarily driven by the increasing disposable income of middle class Indian, who are willing to spend more money on their personal health and well being. The major tea-producing states in India are: Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Sikkim, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Bihar, Orissa. Government and the Indian tea industry
The Indian tea industry as the second largest employer in the country has enjoyed the attention of the Indian government. When export sales went down, the government has been sympathetic to the demand of the industry and its cultivators. It has passed resolutions supporting the industry domestically and has also lobbied extensively with organizations like the WTO internationally.
The Indian administration along with the European Union and six other countries (Brazil, Chile, Japan, South Korea and Mexico) filed a complaint with the WTO against the Byrd Amendment which was formally known as the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act of 2000 legislated by the US. The essence of this act was that non-US firms which sell below cost price in the US could be fined and the money given to the US companies who made the complaint in the first place. The act adversely affected the commodities business of the complainant states and has since been repealed after WTO ruled the act to be illegal.
Furthermore, the Indian government took cognizance of the changed tea and coffee market and set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to look into their problems in late 2003. The IMC has recommended that the government share the financial burden of plantation industry on account of welfare measures envisaged for plantation workers mandated under the Plantation Labour Act 1951. Moreover, IMC has recommended to introduce means so that the agricultural income tax levied by the state governments can be slashed and the tea industry be made competitive. It has recommended that sick or bankrupt plantation estates should be provided with analogous level of relaxation for similarly placed enterprises/estates as are available to industries referred to BIFR.
A Special Tea Term Loan (STTL) for the tea sector was announced by the Indian government in 2004. It envisaged restructuring of irregular portions of the outstanding term/working capital loans in the tea sector with repayment over five to seven years and a moratorium of one year, which was to be on a case to case basis for large growers. The STTL also provides for working capital up to Rs. 2 lakhs at a rate not exceeding 9% to small growers.
In addition to these measures, the Tea Board plans to launch a new marketing initiative, which will include foray into new markets such as Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam and Egypt. It also plans to renew its efforts in traditional markets like Russia, the UK, Iraq and UAE. Noteworthy is its intent to double tea exports to Pakistan within a year.
Assam Orthodox Tea is set to receive the Geographical Indications (GI) exclusivity. A GI stamp identifies a certain product as emanating from the territory of a WTO member or region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs set up the Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) under the tea Board on December 29, 2006. The aim is to fund replantation and rejuvenation (R&R) programme. In the same year, Tata Tea entered into an agreement to take over Jemca, which controls a 26 percent market share in the Czech Republic.
The CCEA gave its approval for pegging the subsidy at 25 per cent and adoption of a funding pattern of 25 per cent promoter’s contribution, 25 per cent subsidy from the government and 50 per cent loan from the SPTF. Banks have also been instructed to increase the lending period to over 13 years.