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regular-article-logo Thursday, 30 May 2024

Plea to PM Modi, Union minister Piyush Goyal against Tata's practice of blending Nepal tea

Quoting data provided by the Tea Board on the test results of samples drawn from imported Nepal teas, former parliamentarian Shanta Chhetri alleged that it could be ‘reasonably apprehended’ that teas sold in some of the tea packs of Tata Consumer Products may be unsafe and unfit for consumption

Sambit Saha Calcutta Published 26.02.24, 11:05 AM
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Representational image File picture

Former parliamentarian Shanta Chhetri has shot off letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, commerce minister Piyush Goyal and a host of senior government officials casting aspersion on Tata Consumer Products Ltd’s (TCPL) practice of blending Nepal tea in the company’s consumer packs available in the Indian market.

Quoting data provided by the Tea Board on the test results of samples drawn from imported Nepal teas, Chhetri alleged that it could be ‘reasonably apprehended’ that teas sold in some of the consumer packs of TCPL may be unsafe and unfit for human consumption.

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She urged PM Modi to direct the nation’s food regulator FSSAI and the Tea Board to collect samples of Nepal teas being offered for sale in TCPL consumer packs and test for maximum residue level (MRL) of 20 banned pesticides in them.

In response, TCPL vehemently rejected any insinuation that it sells unsafe teas to Indian consumers and maintains that its products meet the existing FSSAI regulations and standards.

In a communication to this newspaper, the company said that it was not aware of the said letter and hence was constrained in offering any specific comments on the content of the same. However, it sought to allay apprehensions about Nepal teas pointing out that the company itself tests teas that are found to be compliant with existing food standards.

“We can categorically state that we do not directly import any teas from Nepal. Any such teas that we procure for our Indian brands are only from teas traded as per Indian government regulations which we continuously test and have found to be compliant with existing FSSAI regulations and standards,” a TCPL spokesperson said.

Chhetri quoted an RTI reply of the Tea Board where the tea sector regulator disclosed that three out of six samples sent by it for laboratory analysis failed to meet FSSAI standards during 2018 and 2019.

“In other words, 50 per cent of teas imported from Nepal fail to meet Indian food safety norms, as per Tea Board’s own admission,” she wrote on February 14. India imported 16.05 million kg of Nepal teas in 2018-19. The former member of the Tea Board also invoked an RTI reply from the board dated November 3, 2023, where the regulator disclosed it had destroyed 24,819 kg of Nepal teas during 2022-23 for not complying with Indian food safety norms.

“Since Tea Board was able to conduct tests on only a few samples of Nepal teas, which however indicated that a huge percentage of such teas were not suitable for human consumption, it is reasonably apprehended that many consignments of teas which do not meet Indian food safety standards could have entered the country from Nepal without assessing the safety of such teas as per Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006,” she wrote.

Stressing that TCPL is the single largest dealer of Nepal teas in India, Chhetri said that based on the premise, “it is also reasonably apprehended that the teas imported from Nepal that are being sold in consumer packs by TCPL may be unsafe, hazardous and unsuitable for human consumption, having the potential to affect the health of the domestic consumers and it is therefore imperative for the statutory authorities viz FSSAI and Tea Board to collect samples of Nepal teas being offered for sale in consumer packs of TCPL and assess the safety of such teas as per Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006,” she added.

The letter to the PM comes barely a month after commerce minister Goyal directed the FSSAI to ramp up tests of imported teas to India. The minister had then met the representatives of the tea industry in Calcutta where the plight of Darjeeling tea was highlighted among others.

Darjeeling planter Sanjay Choudhury, who has filed a PIL before the Calcutta High Court on the influx of alleged low-quality Nepal teas, noted that the right to healthy food has been enshrined in the Constitution. “It is therefore a primary duty of the authorities to check the influx of inferior Nepal teas,” he argued.

This is not the first instance that Chhetri, who hails from Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of Bengal, took on TCPL. She had written to PM Modi in August 2021 highlighting the plight of Darjeeling teas in the face of cheaper and alleged inferior quality Nepal teas imported and sold in India.

She then alleged that TCPL is blending Nepal teas in their popular ‘Tata Gold’ pack without mentioning the name of the country of origin of such teas and that Nepal teas do not meet FSSAI standards.

The company had then said all tea procured for TCPL’s India brands was only from teas traded in the Indian domestic markets which meet FSSAI regulations and that “all our blends are subjected to our own stringent quality standards”.

In November of 2021, the Tea Board issued a notice prohibiting blending imported teas with Darjeeling, Assam, Kangra, Nilgiri teas. However, that order was diluted in October 2022 allowing the blend.

Nepal enjoys duty-free access to the Indian market. The Modi government is wary of clamping down on the free flow due to geopolitical concerns involving Chinese influence in Nepal.

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