Hill strike suspended but bar on tea

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, Feb. 22: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today “suspended” the general strike but announced that it would not allow the first flush of Darjeeling tea to move out of the gardens.

The first flush of Darjeeling tea, which accounts for 20 to 25 per cent of the total tea production in the hills, fetches a “premium” price and is the most sought after in the global market, industry sources said. Almost 90 per cent of the first flush tea is exported.

Raju Pradhan, the Morcha assistant general secretary who attended the party’s central committee meeting at Kumani, said: “The strike has been suspended… mainly for two reasons: the board exams that are about to start and the general inconvenience it was causing the people.”

Sources, however, said the real reason for the strike withdrawal was the adverse impact it was having on the Morcha’s image. The shutdown, among the many in four years, has caused a lot of hardship to the people.

The agitation for Gorkhaland would, however, continue with an indefinite hunger strike in the hills from February 24 and a dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on February 27. Besides, rallies would be held every Thursday.

By threatening to block the movement of tea, the Morcha is trying to pressure the state government, which did not convey its decision on the formation of the joint verification committee to the Centre today. The JVC would look into the issue of the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed interim set-up for the hills.

“So far, the first flush of Darjeeling tea has not been hit as plucking starts from end-February or the beginning of March and continues till mid-April. If we are not allowed to despatch our tea, we will not be able to meet the export deadline and this would hit the industry hard,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

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