Development of Assam’s Tea Industry (APSC Assam Economy Notes)
Development of Assam’s Tea Industry
India is the second largest producer of tea in the world, only after China. Most of the tea produced in India comes from North East India, especially Assam and Tripura. The Assam tea industry accounts for more than 50% of India’s total tea production. There are 848 registered tea estates in Assam.
Assam is the only region other than China which can boast of its own variety of native tea plant, Camellia sinensis assamica. Most of the tea plantations in Assam are situated at a near sea level height. and the whole area is endowed with a plenty of rainfall. The unique tropical climate of Assam imparts a special distinctive malty flavor, with a very strong body and bright color.
Robert Bruce in 1823 discovered tea plants growing wild in upper Brahmaputra Valley. A tea garden was started by the Government in 1833 in the then Lakhimpur district. The commercial circle of London took a keen interest in tea plantations in Assam and a company named as Assam Company was formed in 1839 to take over the holdings of the East India Company’s Administration over the tea gardens in Assam. This was the first company in India to undertake the commercial production of tea. Nazira was headquarters of this company until it was shifted to Calcutta in 1965.
The second important tea company, the Jorhat Tea Company was formed in 1859. To encourage tea plantation, the Government also made liberal provisions for the settlement of the waste land for tea cultivation.
In 1911, world’s first institute dedicated to tea research, the Toklai Research Station was established near Jorhat to carrying on research on cultivation and manufacture of tea. This facility has been very useful in disseminating knowledge for the increase of yield for the industry. The industry faced an acute crisis in 1930s, which was successfully averted by enacting the Indian Tea Control Act,1933, and instituting an International Tea Committee and Indian Tea Licensing Committee.
Marketing of tea has always been a problem for the products of this region, as previously the Tea Auction Centre at Calcutta was the only centre of sale for Assam Tea. The imposition of West Bengal Entry Tax on Assam Tea, transport bottlenecks and many more difficulties involved in arranging the sale at Calcutta Auction centre, necessitated the opening of the Tea Auction Centre in Assam. The Tea Auction Centre at Guwahati was opened on 25th Sept.1970, which started a new era for the tea industry of Assam.
From the very beginning of tea plantation in Assam, the planters have faced great difficulties in securing the necessary labour force. The experiment with immigrant Chinese labour in the early days proved a complete failure due to the high cost of requirement and maintenance and to the difficulties in their management. Local labourers were not available in sufficient number. It thus became necessary to bring labourers from other parts of India in large number to meet the labour demand due to expansion of the tea plantations in Assam. As a result of continuous inflow of immigrant labourers, tea garden communities now forms substantial share of Assam’s population.
In present time, the Assam Tea has a global reputation and commands significant share in the world Tea Market. Assam’s total area under tea cultivation accounts for more than half of the country’s total area under tea. Assam produces about 630- 700 million kg of tea, which is more than half of India’s tea production.
India produced around 1,279 million kg in 2017 and it consumes 70% of the produce. As a result, it has very little amount of surplus tea left for export and thus India ranks fourth in the list of tea exporters. Some of the well-known regional brand varieties India produces are the Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Dooars, Kangra etc.