‘Normal’ rains take toll on tea

The Telegraph

Kalimpong, Oct. 29: The monsoon has taken its toll on tea this time although experts said it was a “normal” year in terms of rainfall with fewer landslides compared to last year.

Landslides in the nearly five months of the rainy season that began in mid-June and ended yesterday have claimed three lives compared to over 30 deaths in 2009. Even normal life was disrupted less this year. The situation in tea gardens, the main industry in the hills, however, is not as cheerful with production likely to dip this time.

“The monsoon withdrew from the sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim yesterday. Overall, the monsoon was normal in the hills as well as in the plains of north Bengal. Sikkim also experienced normal rainfall this year,” said G.N. Raha, the meteorologist in-charge of the flood meteorological office in Jalpaiguri.

Data available with Save the Hills, an NGO that works on landslide-related issues, corroborated the recordings of the met office. Earlier this year, the STH had installed three automatic rainfall gauges in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. “Of the three major hill towns, Kurseong received above normal rainfall, while Darjeeling and Kalimpong received a notch less than normal,” said Praful Rao, the STH president. Rao said even though it was a relief that few lives were lost, the landslide hazard should be seen from a different perspective. “It does not cause death like an earthquake but impacts human lives over a longer period of time,” he said.

As far as tea is concerned, the industry apprehends further fall in production. “Production of Darjeeling Tea was 14 million kg in the early 90s which came down to 9.3 million kg in 2009, according to the Tea Board of India.

“We apprehend a further shortfall in production this year,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association. The monsoon was erratic this year in keeping with the trend of the last decade. “Over the past decade, there has been a 22 per cent shortfall in rainfall. This (shortfall) is likely to go up further in the future…(Moreover) in the last three years, drought-like conditions prevailed at the start of every year.


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