Agartala, May 21: The tiny state of Tripura which has a century old tea growing history wants its teas to be auctioned again in Bangladesh, 56-years after exports through East Pakistan's Chittagong tea auction centre stopped in the aftermath of the 1965 war.
Tea growers in Tripura want to sell their teas through neighbouring Bangladesh's Sreemangal tea auction centre, just 10 kms away from the Tripura northern border. "Tripura has always had a problem of auctioning tea as there is no auction centre in the state. Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has asked the Government of India to take up with Bangladesh so that planters from Tripura can auction their produce at Sreemangal, which is near the Tripura border, Chairman of the Tripura Tea Development Corporation(TTDC) Santosh Saha told PTI.
Tripura has some 58 tea gardens - 42 of which are individually owned, another 13 are run by cooperative societies while three are run by the TTDC. Besides, there are nearly 3,000 small tea growers in the border state. Interestingly, Tripura's gardens were pioneered by Indian tea entrepreneurs as the then ruler of the state, Maharaja Birendra Kishore Manikya, had a policy of not allowing British planters to buy land in his state.
Currently, growers here depend on far away auction centres in Guwahati and Calcutta to sell their produce, increasing costs. Till the 1965 war with Pakistan when travel and trade between the two neighbouring nations were easy, Tripura's tea used to be sold through the Chittagong auction centre and exported out of the port there. The war and subsequent rift in trade ties disrupted this arrangement. Manager of the Laxmi Tea Company, Manas Bhattacharya said, absence of tea auction centre in Tripura is a major hurdle for sending the produce to the country's main markets or to export tea abroad.
Planters hope that if they can sell through Sreemangal auction centre, then exports could also happen through Bangladesh's Ashuganj or Chittagong ports. The agro-climatic condition is favourable for tea production in Tripura. Now we have got a logo approved for Tripura tea, to compete with Assam and Darjeeling Tea as well as other established brands, Saha said. The state-run Tripura Tea Development Corporation is also trying to directly retail tea by selling `Tripureswari branded packets and reaching out to people through Public Distribution System (PDS), officials said.
We have three tea gardens, where we produce slightly more than eight lakh kg tea per year and sell the entire productions through the PDS system. Now, we are trying to produce more tea because the demand is very high, Saha added. Tea production began in Tripura at the Hiracherra tea estate in Unakoti district in 1916. As per latest reports, 6,885 hectares of land is under tea cultivation in the state, officials said. The north eastern state currently produces over 3.58
crore kg green tea leaf annually.