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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.