Tea industry debates Scindia remark on Tea

Guwahati: Assam tea industry has asserted that the demand for declaring tea as the `national drink` was justified and it could in no way be termed as at the cost of coffee.

"Coffee or other beverages will always have their own respective market shares and declaration of tea as national drink can in no way be at the cost of coffee," North East Tea Association Chairman Bidyanand Barkakoty said said.

He was reacting to Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia`s recent statement in the Rajya Sabha said that coffee was a competing beverage and both had respective market shares and declaring one particular beverage as a national drink will likely be at the cost of the other. "Was the declaration of mango as national fruit at the cost of apple or other fruits? Was the declaration of tiger as the national animal at the cost of bear or other animals", he asked.

Barkakoty said that 83 per cent of households in India consumed tea while its penetration of tea was in the range of 96 per cent to 99 per cent in both urban and rural areas of the country and probably no other beverage in the world had such high level of penetration.

The annual tea production in the country is 988 million kgs while the annual coffee production is 302 million kgs, the annual tea consumption is 815 million kgs while coffee consumption is 108 million kgs and the per capita consumption of coffee in India is 75 gms whereas per capita consumption of tea is 730 gms, he said.

Barkakoty said that Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu were the main coffee growing areas with Karnataka accounted for 70 per cent coffee, but tea was grown in different regions of the country.

Even tea industry of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu were in no way smaller in size than the coffee industry with 60 per cent of tea exports being made from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, he said.

There were many other reasons why tea was ahead of other beverages in its claim as the national drink, he said. "Tea is indigenous to India and is an area where we can take a lot of pride. Southern China and Assam are the only two regions in the world with native tea plants," he added.

The Joint Forum of Assam Tea Planters Association, North Eastern Tea Association and Bharatiya Cha Parishad in a joint memorandum had appealed for declaring tea as national drink of India as it is consumed by large sections of people and this would also contribute to its brand building exercise.

Scindia had pointed out that a proposal to declare tea as the national drink of India was earlier examined during 2006 in consultation with the central ministries and departments concerned and the states and union territories. The matter was, however, not pursued following objections by some state governments and as it was felt that coffee is a competing beverage with both having respective market shares.