Palampur, May 25: The once famous "kangra" tea is facing a crisis with falling yield and low prices forcing the cultivators to switch to other crops or sell the plantations.
In order to rectify the situation, the Tea board has drawn up a Rs 567 crore scheme to replace the more than 100 year-old plants with fresh saplings.
Prahald Kshetri, development officer in regional office of the Tea Board said tea plantation owners should come forward to avail of this scheme.
Tea in the valley was introduced in 1854 when the Holta tea estate was set up by the British. In the late 19th century, the Nissan tea company expanded the cultivation. However, a massive earthquake in 1905 devastated the plantations and tea production facilities. Most of the European planters who had settled down in the area from 1852 abandoned the plantations and left. Subsequently, local people took over tea plantations.
Initially, abundant availability of land and ideal weather conditions led to flourishing of the tea industry. However, the last few years witnessed heavy losses forcing many of the growers to turn towards other occupations.
The area under tea was also getting reduced. According to a decade-old survey by Indian Tea Board there were 3679 tea plantations, but these have come down substantially.
At present, tea production is only in 2312 hectares and a massive 1094 hectares lie neglected.
While inputs prices and labour charges have almost doubled in the past three years, tea prices in domestic and international markets have fallen by 30 to 40 per cent after the Central government signed the WTO agreement.
Mr D S Kanwar, assistant director at the Tea Office of the state government, said in 2005, Kangra tea production stood at 8,55,783 kg, increased to 8,62,120 Kg the next year but fell to 8,1,646 Kg in 2007. The plantations in Kangra valley had a work force of 6000, he added.
Mr Kanwar said Kangra tea is registered under the Geographical Indication Act so that it can be used to promote the state in the form of tea tourism. several travel firms are already condcting package tours of Palampur tea plantations.