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Political Unrest In India's East Affects Tea, Tourist Industry


Political unrest in India's eastern hills is hitting the famed tea and tourist industries in the region. Anjana Pasricha, reports from New Delhi, India is the world's largest tea producer.

June is usually one of the busiest months across hundreds of tea plantations that lie on the Darjeeling hills in India's West Bengal state.

It is the time of the year when workers are busy plucking fresh leaves off blooming tea bushes.

But a strike called by the ethnic "Gorkha" group demanding a separate state has raised fears that exports of the famed Darjeeling tea will be hit this year.

The protest has disrupted transport links, blocked roads, and shut down many businesses.

Rajiv Lochan, secretary of the Siliguri Tea Traders Association, says the strike has
affected operations in the region's tea estates.

"There is a drop in production, there is a drop in quality which is a very serious concern because this is the best time for production, and we are not able to pluck the
leaves in time from the bush, so the disruption in the plucking season has greatly impaired the quality," Lochan said.

The industry estimates that it is piling up losses of half a million dollars a day due to the strike, and exports could be down by 25 percent this year.

The region produces about 10 million kilograms of high quality brews - the fragrant Darjeeling teas are considered the finest in the world. Much of it is exported to the
Middle East, Pakistan, Russia and Germany.

Tea is not the only industry to be affected by political unrest in the region.

Tourists have also been scared away from the region after protestors blocked a key highway. Thousands who were in the hills when trouble broke out earlier this month left
the region. Others have cancelled bookings.

About half a million tourists visit the region every year in the summer months.

The tea and tourism industries are the mainstay of the local economy in the region.

India accounts for about one-third of the global production of tea. Not all of it is grown on the Darjeeling hills - there are sprawling tea estates in other hilly regions as well.

The protestors have warned their strike will continue until the federal government opens talks with them.

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