Tea versus milk as national drink

Guwahati: Assam`s tea industry today reacted sharply to Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation`s recent claim that milk and not tea should be declared the national drink.

"Tea is a common man`s beverage and the cost of a cup of AMUL milk is more than double the cost of a cup of tea", North East Tea Association`s (NETA) Chairman Bidyanand Barkakoty told PTI here.

Even in Gujarat where AMUL has its plant, the per capita consumption of tea is above the national average and they are known for drinking quality tea, he said. In Gujarat, people traditionally welcome their guests with a good cup of tea, Barkakoty added.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had during a recent visit to Assam come out strongly in favour of declaring tea as a national drink citing several factors which makes a strong case for according it the status of a national drink.

GCMMF Managing Director R S Sodhi had subsequently claimed that milk is the world`s original energy drink for all age groups and healthy nations. "There is no need to declare anything and everybody knows milk is the national drink and the country has emerged as the world`s largest milk producer", he said.

Assam Tea Planters`s Association (ATPA) Chairman A R Kasera said that tea is the cheapest beverage in the world after water and is the second largest employer of the organised sector after Indian Railways.

Barkakoty pointed out that tea, in India, is not just a product or commodity but a culture steeped in history. "The country produces about 25 per cent of the world`s total tea, is the largest producer of black tea and in terms of volume, it is the largest black tea consuming country in the world", he pointed out.

In India, over 800 million kg of tea is consumed annually and consumption is increasing annually at the rate of three per cent with more than 80 per cent of the produce consumed within the country. "According the national drink status to the beverage, was likely to increase its domestic consumption level from the present level", he said.

Moreover, national drink status for the beverage would provide a major impetus to the brand building exercise of Indian tea, he added.

The country is the fourth largest exporter of tea, occupies about 12 per cent of the global exports and the total annual turnover of the Indian tea industry is around Rs 10,000 crore.

The industry is one of the largest employer in the organised sector, employing 1.2 million of permanent workers while another two million people are dependent on the industry, Kasera said. "The industry is the single largest employer of women force in the country with 50 per cent work force comprising women", Kasera said

The industry, with more than 5,80,000 hectares under tea cultivation, was also helping maintain ecological balance due to huge green cover by the tea plants and shady trees, he added. Tea is the national drink of China, Britain, Egypt and Iran while mint tea is the national drink of Morocco.