Plantations in Palampur: A tea that’s not on the menu of any political party



Palampur:The winding roads in the hill town of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra slowly take you to the lush green tea gardens dotted with hundreds of men and women, baskets hanging on their backs, plucking the leaves that are then taken to in house processing units.On the way, comes a ‘Chai Bhawan’, an office of HPgovernment’s tea division, meant to ‘guide’ and help tea growers. Only a caretaker is present. The rooms lie locked.Soon, the landscape changes  from lush green visibly ‘prosperous’ tea estates to the ones with drooping leaves, rotting plants, and locked gates. One doesn’t need to be the cliched rocket scientist to understand and not all’s well with Kangra’s tea story.Of around 2,300 hectares under tea cultivation in Himachal, the maximum 1,400 hectares is in Palampur. But over the past 15 years, tea production in Kangra has dwindled from 17-18 lakh kilos a year to just 8-9 lakh kilos now. Left behind are the neglected tea farms, being abandoned by younger generations of the families that owned them since colonial era.According to DS Kanwar, technical officer (tea), state agriculture department, an approximate 850 hectares of area under tea is lying neglected or has been abandoned by owners. There are 5,900 tea growers still active, mostly in Kangra, apart from small pockets in Joginder Nagar and Chamba.