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Tea hits coffee wall
- Cloud over national tag

Guwahati, May 16: Assam tea industry’s hopes of the beverage being accorded “national drink” status today took a beating with minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia pointing out that similar demands in 2006 were shelved on the ground that it could hurt the interests of coffee.

The minister of state for commerce and industry today in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha also said that there was no fixed criterion for according “national” status to any particular product/commodity.

He said representations have been received from the joint forum of the Assam Tea Planters Association, the North Eastern Tea Association and the Bharatiya Cha Parishad for declaring tea as the national drink of India as it is consumed by a large section of people and it would also contribute to its brand-building exercise.

The minister said a proposal to declare tea as the national drink of India was earlier examined in 2006 in consultation with the central ministries/departments concerned and the states/Union territories.

“The matter was not pursued further as objections were raised by some of the state governments and it was felt that coffee is a competing beverage and both have respective market shares and declaring one particular beverage as a ‘national drink’ will likely be at the cost of the other,” the minister said in his reply.

Chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association Bidyananda Barkakoty, who has been at the forefront of this campaign, told The Telegraph: “Declaration of tea as the national drink cannot be ‘at the cost of coffee’. Was the declaration of mango as the national fruit at the cost of apple or other fruits?” he asked.

He said the industry is optimistic that the Centre will soon declare tea as the national drink.

“Tea is not just a product or commodity, it’s a part of our culture. Across all religions, caste and creed, people in the country drink tea. In 2006, there might have been some discussions, but the memorandum by the joint forum for the first time elaborates the justification in detail why tea should be declared as the national drink.”

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was in Jorhat recently to attend celebrations marking 75 years of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association, said he would take up tea’s cause.

The Assam government has already sounded Manmohan Singh on the issue.

According to the ORG lndia tea consumption study 2008, 83 per cent of households in lndia consume tea.

According to the Coffee Consumption in India-2005 published by the Coffee Board, the per capita consumption of coffee in India is 75gm. The per capita consumption of tea is 730gm, according to the Tea Board of India.

“There are many other logical reasons why tea stands much ahead of other beverages in its claim as the national drink of India. Many countries in the world have their own national drink. National drink is an integral part of a nation’s identity and self-image, history, ecology and culture,” Barkakoty said.

Robin Borthakur, former additional chairman of Bharatiya Cha Parishad, also said every country has a national drink. “There is no reason for the government not to declare tea as a national drink as it is popular and cheap and is drunk by one and all”.

Tea is generally more easily available in most parts of the country than coffee. Cost-wise, in a place such as Guwahati, a cup of tea would be available for as little as Rs 3 while a coffee would not be available for less than Rs 15.

Coffee Board sources in Guwahati, too, said coffee drinking is limited to Tamil Nadu mainly, and followed by other states in the south. Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the main coffee-growing areas in India.

“The annual production of coffee in the Northeast is 2,00,000kg and the figure is slowly increasing,” sources said. Tea production in Assam, on the other hand, stands at around 500 million kg.

The annual coffee production is 302 million kg in the country, whereas that of tea is 988 million kg.

Again, the annual coffee consumption in India 108 million kg while that of tea is 815 million kg.