DEHRADUN: An estimated 1,500 hectares of prime land housing tea gardens - many of which were planted by the British in the city - is lying neglected with the tea plantations there barely able to produce tea of substantial quantity.
Observers say that most of these gardens have been bought by real estate companies who are least concerned about the tea business but are instead eyeing the prime land which they intend to use, after getting its land use changed, to build flats and apartments.
According to Chitra Gupta, president of the employees' union of Arcadia tea garden, a 600-hectare property in Harbanswala on the outskirts of Dehradun which was bought by a Delhi-based realty major in 2007, the "strategy of the buyers is crystal clear."
"None of the buyers has any background or expertise in the tea business. They are real estate developers and their clear-cut strategy is to blame the changing city climate for the perishing tea-gardens and prove that the tea business here has no future. They have been constantly lobbying with the state government to change the land use for these tea-gardens. It seems they will win sooner or later, as Dehradun is constantly struggling with a shortage of habitable land."
Tea plantations in the city date back to the later half of the 19th century when Dehradun tea vied with some of the best teas of the world. But dwindling estates and rapid commercialization of land has resulted in barely 10% of the tea gardens being left in the city. Today, a visit to a tea garden is a heart-wrenching affair as weed plants outnumber tea plants and tea is processed in dilapidated buildings. There is little fencing, cattle can be seen feeding on tea leaves while workers are mostly absent.
Meenaxi Tiwari, development officer of Uttarakhand Tea Board, echoes majority of the tea-workers' views saying that the companies which have taken over the tea gardens are "deliberately neglecting them to demand change in land use under the Land Ceiling Act citing that the tea gardens are no longer viable."
Attempts to reach tea garden owners for their version proved futile as they could not be contacted. Meanwhile, Raghunath Singh Negi, a senior BJP leader said that if tea gardens had to survive, the state government should step in to take some stringent measures like fixing a minimum support price and providing a special allowance to the tea-industry.