Roshni Sen, Deputy Chairman, Tea Board of India, MSc (Physics) joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in the year 1993. As Chairperson of the Tea Board of India, she handles the entire gamut of work related to the tea industry. She has also worked as sub-divisional officer Kalimpong where she handled devastating landslides and disastrous fires. As an Additional District Magistrate and Collector in the districts of Nadia and South 24 Parganas, she was Special Secretary in the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and handled various PPP projects like City Centre at Salt Lake and Hiland Park Housing complex, the Kolkata riverfront at the Millennium Park. She has also worked as Project Director IPP VIII Calcutta, a World Bank Project on Urban Health Worked as District Magistrate and Collector in the districts of Hooghly and South 24 Parganas and took up initiatives in women and child development, poverty alleviation and handled ‘Gangasagar Mela’, elections, floods and cyclones in addition to all the work in connection to development, revenue collection land acquisition and law and order in the district.
The Tea Board India has a long history and dates back to 1903 when the Indian Tea Cess Bill was passed. The Bill provided for levying a cess on tea exports - the proceeds of which were to be used for the promotion of Indian tea both within and outside India. The present Tea Board set up under section 4 of the Tea Act 1953 was constituted on 1st April 1954. Tea is one of the industries, which by an Act of Parliament comes under the control of the Union Govt. It has succeeded the Central Tea Board and the Indian Tea Licencing Committee which functioned respectively under the Central Tea Board Act, 1949 and the Indian Tea Control Act, 1938, which were repealed. The activities of the two previous bodies had been confined largely to regulation of tea cultivation and export of tea as required by the International Tea Agreement then in force, and promotion of tea Consumption.
Speaking with Jasmine Kohli of IIFL, Roshni Sen, say “There is no supply deficit as of now; and glut in supply has been removed to a large extent.”
What is the current trend in tea consumption in the country?
To begin with, tea consumption can be promoted by making the consumers aware of the goodness of tea. Tea is a natural beverage packed with antioxidants. Tea can keep us alert and active. And of course, tea can bring people and culture together. A lot of things can happen over a cup of tea.
A couple of years ago, ORG-MARG did a survey and according to the survey the consumption trend in tea show an upbeat. We are expecting the consumption to go up 2-3% p.a, which is in fact higher than the population growth, so that excess amount of tea has to be made available to the consumer.
The demand is growing and so are the prices. The situation demands a solution because if the demand goes up to that extent as the survey predicts, we would be left with a few options; either import more tea or else grow more tea. Growing more tea needs more land and that is impossible as there is a land constraint.
So the only way left is to improve productivity for which we have to replace the old bushes which are low in productivity. We are encouraging the industry to take up replantation. But it takes around 6-7 years for the bushes to reach the optimum productivity level. Replantation will cause a fall in production, therefore when we uproot and replant, we have to plan the process very scientifically.
After uprooting, we have to leave the land fallow for some, where we then plant Guatemala grass or some nutrient generating plant, so as to replenish the soil with nutrients. This process is called rehabilitation.
After the period of re-habilitation which is about 18 months ideally; we plant the new tea bushes, which start production only after two-three years, but a full production comes after 6-7 years.
What measures are you taking to address the problem of long production period?
We could develop some clone, which can give high productivity and production in short period of time. We have our R&D institutes working on it. In fact, gardens themselves do some cloning but our research institutions in Assam and Tamil Nadu are doing this systematically.
In Northern India the productivity is around 1500-2000 kg per hectare while in the South it is 3000 kg per hectare; but if we have a ‘magic clone’ which gives 5000 kg per hectare, then we could meet the projected demand for tea in future.
Though these are all long term thoughts, we need to think that way in order to support the demand.
What are the recent challenges being faced by the tea industry?
First is the challenge of availability of land, second is the constraint of labour as everyone wants to be upwardly mobile. The children of tea garden labourers want to get better education and be in some better paying profession. So there is a lot of labour shortage in South India and considerably in North India too.
Mechanization may be a solution as they do in countries like Japan, but the quality of tea suffers if we shift from hand plucking to machine plucking.
Distribution of tea is another challenge, in terms of quality control. We should go in for packed tea rather than loose tea as quality control is easier in such cases. In India loose tea is more popular. We propose to setup a logo administration system for packet teas to control quality. We can give the logo to those who qualify the standard and we can check the tea randomly from the shelves and also from the source of origin, but that again needs lot of manpower, lot of resources and industry participation. Quality control is needed to look into seriously. We are doing it now by raiding factories. We also promptly respond to complaints. We need to do it in a more rigorous and exhaustive way.
What is the average wage earned by the tea labourers?
The labourers in North India are given around Rs. 67-70 per day in addition free housing, medical facility, Education and drinking water provided. According to the Plantation Labour Act it is the responsibility of plantation owner to provide all these. As most of the gardens are in remote areas these facilities need to be provided. In north areas they also provide fire-wood and food grains also to labourers.
In south India, a few gardens finding the business non-profitable are changing the nature of the land and going for real estate and setting up tourism units. In North India it is less so because all the land belongs to the government which is given to the plantation owners on lease.