GUWAHATI, Aug 6 – Tea should be made the national drink of India and as a precursor to this Assam should declare the drink that has been serving the country’s people as one of the major unifiers, its state drink.
This was the appeal made by North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty in his presidential address at the 15th biennial general meeting of the association held at the Golaghat NETA Auditorium today. Barkakoty has been re-elected as the NETA chairman for the second consecutive term for 2011-13.
Reminding that tea is the national drink of Britain and China, he urged the Assam government to officially declare tea as the ‘State Drink’ and requested it to persuade the Union government to declare the beverage as the ‘National Drink’.
Talking to this correspondent over phone, Barkakoty said that a drink can become a national drink for a variety of reasons like majority of the people drinking it everyday, because of its representing the regions and customs of the entire country, because of its being produced locally, etc. A national drink is a part of a nation’s identity and self-image, he said.
Arguing that the State also may have its own drink, the NETA chairman said that most of the States have already declared their State birds, animals, flowers and trees in consonance with their respective biodiversity.
Recalling the history of the country’s tea industry, he said that 350 pounds of Assam tea were dispatched to London on May 8, 1838. This consignment of tea was sold at the India House, London, on January 10, 1839. Assam tea was the first Indian offering, which took the world market by storm.
Assam is synonymous to the outside world with Assam Tea. The tea industry of the State is over 180 year-old. The genesis of the tea industry in Assam is the genesis of the tea industry in India. For, Assam is the birth place of Indian tea.
Tea is perhaps the only industry in which Assam has been able to retain its leadership for the past 180 years.
Moreover, Assam produces over 51 per cent of the total tea India produces annually. The annual turnover of this industry in Assam is Rs 5,000 crore and it employs 5 lakh workers permanently and another 5 lakh workers seasonally.
Another 10 lakh people are dependent on the Assam tea industry, be it in the form of employment or services. The contribution of Assam to the total global production of tea is 13 per cent.
Women constitute 50 per cent of the workers engaged in State’s tea industry. And thus it has come out as the single largest employer of women. In Assam, tea is not just a product or commodity, it is a culture, a culture steeped in history.
Besides, the area under tea cultivation in Assam is the single largest area under tea plantation in the world.
The Geographical Indication (GI) right over the Assam orthodox tea has already been obtained, while research works worldwide have proved that tea is a health drink.
Tea industry is helping in maintaining the ecological balance in Assam. Many advanced countries are now in search of such eco-friendly industries.
Further, the progress made by the small tea growers’ movement today has led to the expansion of the tea growing practices to 27 districts of Assam, said the NETA chairman.
In India, about 800 million kgs of tea are consumed annually and consumption of tea is increasing annually at the rate of 3.3 per cent. Indians consume the highest volume of tea in the world. Around 80 per cent of the total tea produced in India is consumed in the country itself and 22 per cent of the tea produced in the world is consumed in the country and 85 per cent of the Indian families drink tea, the NETA chairman said.