According to the census carried out in the hills in 1971, the total population of three hill sub-divisions Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong was approximately 600,000. From the records maintained by the tea gardens, the resident population is over 300,000.
Apart from tourism, Tea is the biggest industrial activity, offering the largest employment in the hills. The turnover of the Darjeeling tea industry is nearly 7.5 million USD, which is more than the money generated by tourism in the Darjeeling hills. Because of its location, Darjeeling was the hot-weather headquarters of the Bengal government under the British Raj and a popular vacation spot. It is famous today as the place of exileof the Dalai Lama.
The fine quality and flavour of Darjeeling tea has resulted in it having a worldwide reputation for excellence. The tea is grown at an elevation of750 – 2000 metre in century old Tea Gardens. It can take up to tenyears before the leaves are ready to be plucked. The tea bushes are nurtured by intermittent rainfall, sunshine and moisture laden mellowmists. The soil is rich and the hilly terrain provides natural drainage forthe generous rainfall the district receives.
The high quality results in extremely low yields, only some 10 million kilos of tea a year. The taste of Darjeeling varies with the seasons. The first growth after the Winter dormant period (the First Flush) producing astringent flavoury teas much prized by some buyers, particularly in Germany. However, some people thinks that the finest tea produced each year comes from the second growth (Second Flush) which produces a more mature and lasting flavour. The tea has a full taste with a hint of muscat.
There are only 86 Tea Estates which produce Darjeeling Tea on a totalarea of 19,000 hectares and the tea from Darjeeling makes up for 3 percent of India’s total production. The Darjeeling tea industry at present employs over 52 thousand people on a permanent basis, while a further 15,000 persons are engaged during the plucking season which lasts from March to November. More than 60 percent are women and the employment is on a family basis.
The income of a garden worker is half in the form of cash and the otherhalf by way of perquisites. For example, the workers are provided with free accommodation, subsidised cereal ration and free medical benefits.Gardens used to run primary schools which have since been taken overby the government but the buildings continue to be maintained by the garden management.
Fake Darjeeling Tea
Almost 40 million kg is sold as “Darjeeling Tea” when the actual production capacity is just 10 million. Most of this teas comes from SriLanka and Kenya and in an effort to stop this market a logo type is developed. Some of the fake tea is called Lanka Darjeeling or Hamburg Darjeeling but most of the time it’s called Pure Darjeeling.
Japan, a largely orthodox-tea growing area, has already discovered the chemical constituents present in the Darjeeling variety, but industrywatchers say that this will not enable them to grow the true Darjeeling variety.
According to the Tea Board Of India, “Darjeeling Tea” means: “tea whichhas been cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed intea gardens (current schedule whereof is attached hereto) in the hillyareas of Sadar Sub-Division, only hilly areas of Kalimpong Sub-Division comprising of Samabeong Tea Estate, Ambiok Tea Estate, Mission Hill Tea Estate and Kumai Tea Estate and Kurseong Sub-Division excludingthe areas in jurisdiction list 20,21,23,24,29,31 and 33 comprisingSubtiguri Sub-Division of New Chumta Tea Estate, Simulbari and Marionbari Tea Estate of Kurseong Police Station in Kurseong Sub-Division of the District of Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal, India. Tea which has been processed and manufactured in a factory located in the aforesaid area, which, when brewed, has a distinctive, naturally occurring aroma and taste with light tea liquour and the infusedleaf of which has a distinctive fragrance.”
Darjeeling tea gardens are unlikely to be opened to tourists any time soon despite the best efforts of the West Bengal government and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
The lease contracts between the tea garden owners and the stategovernment do not provide for any tourism-related activity in thegardens. Therefore, the garden owners want the contracts suitably changed before they can allow tourists in. They also want specific guidelines regarding revenue sharing with the local government. The teaplanters also want guidelines regarding the procedure of collecting revenue from the tourists.
The contracts do neither allow the garden owners to make newconstructions within the prescribed area nor use a section of it forpurposes not mentioned in the contracts