Guwahati, Nov. 22: The stereotype of the tea planter as a polished sahib who lives in a palatial bungalow, plays golf and generally “takes it easy” has come under attack.
As the India International Tea Conference got off to a start today, Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh set the tone for a new era in the tea business by asking the industry to first “get rid of the Bada Sahib mentality”.
Ramesh told a congregation of captains of the industry and delegates from several countries that the industry must change its style of functioning if it is to keep pace with the competition.
The inaugural function of the three-day conference was held at the Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Indoor Stadium.
Listing the challenges faced by the Indian tea industry, Ramesh said the country’s dominance of traditional markets had been threatened by the other tea-producing countries. He urged companies to identify and explore new markets with the emphasis on doing things differently. “Unless we respond fast to the challenges, we will be threatened.”
The minister said countries like Sri Lanka and Kenya had “overtaken us”.
“As the world advances, preferences have changed to orthodox from CTC and India should also change its way of producing tea. We have to produce what the world wants and not what we want,” he added.
Ramesh stressed the need to focus on marketing as well as higher output. “Emphasis has to be given on producing orthodox tea and production should increase to 140 million kg in the next five years from the present 80 million kg as the government is giving subsidies,” he said.
As he had done on more than one occasion before, the minister described small tea growers as “one of the most potent forces in the tea industry”.
On the Great Indian Tea Party — the theme of the convention — he said there should be an international tea convention once in every two years."
“Five conventions in 30 years shows the lackadaisical approach of the tea industry.”
He also rued the fact that the tea promotion centre in Cairo had not become operational yet despite Egypt being one of the main markets for Indian tea.
On the absence of Hollywood actress Julie Christie, who had been invited to the conference because of her roots in Assam — she was born in Chabua, where her father was a tea planter — Ramesh said she sent a message explaining her inability to come because of other commitments.
“She will try to remember the day by raising a toast. But me and Tarun Gogoi are poor substitutes for Julie Christie.”
The chairman of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations, Aditya Khaitan, urged the government to share some of the “social security costs” to inject a fresh dose of competitiveness into the plantation sector.