The movement of trucks with consignments of Nepalese teas started sometime last week, they said.
Darjeeling tea planters have written to the customs department, Tea Board as well as the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to stop entry of Nepalese teas into India without quality checks, alleging that these teas are being sold in the country as Darjeeling tea at lower prices.
“It has come to our knowledge that some trucks carrying consignments of teas from Nepal are entering India at night on a regular basis. These consignments are reaching warehouses in Kolkata and Siliguri. They do not comply with the FSSAI standards,” Sanjay Bansal, chairman of the core committee of Darjeeling Tea Association, told ET. “The customs authority is authorised to only allow entry of imported food products which strictly comply with the standards set by the FSSAI.”
He said these non-compliant spurious teas are a health hazard and also damage the reputation and cause financial loss to the heritage Darjeeling tea, along with threatening the livelihood of the majority of population of Darjeeling hills.
Customs officials in Kolkata said they had received a complaint from Darjeeling tea planters on the issue and that they would look into it.
Last year about 16 million kg of teas had entered India from Nepal. Traders said it is difficult for customers to differentiate between Darjeeling and Nepalese teas as they look similar. “However, we have never come across any packet or any kind of distribution or sale of tea as Nepal tea in the domestic market, which clearly suggests passing off,” said Kaushik Basu, secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association.
Basu said the association has also approached the chief secretary of West Bengal government, Rajiva Sinha, to look into the entry of teas from Nepal.
Tea Board chairman Prabhat K Bezbaruah said India cannot stop import of teas from Nepal as it has a free trade agreement with the neighbouring nation. “What can be done is that teas entering from Nepal should comply with the FSSAI standards and should have the details of the place of origin,” he said.
Darjeeling tea planters are especially worried this year as they have lost the export markets for first flush teas due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Europe, where these teas are sold. Heavy rains have also curtailed tea production, which was down almost 60% year-on-year till May.