Green Signal to Tea Tourism in Bengal

Green Signal to Tea Tourism in Bengal

October 24, 2013

West Bengal has a long history of growing tea. It was started in the mid-19th century by the British planters. It is one of the few states in India where tea gardens can be found. Importantly, some of the best teas in the world come from the Darjeeling district. In fact, the uniqueness of the tea obtained from tea plants grown in the Darjeeling area has led to it getting a geographical indication (GI) tag, complete with a logo, which means that, legally, only packets containing tea grown in and around Darjeeling can carry the label ‘Darjeeling Tea’.

Tea gardens have a unique landscape. Rolling out for miles on the slopes of hills, they make for a fascinating sight. To exploit the full potential of this tourist-friendly landscape, as well make people appreciate the culture around the growing and consumption of tea, eco-tourism centred on tea gardens, or tea tourism, has been planned to be promoted on a huge level. Tea tourism has a huge potential to draw foreign as well as domestic tourists.

In India, Assam already has a proper tea tourism policy in place. Now it is the turn of West Bengal to exploit the unique opportunities that its tea gardens and the hills therein provide. Neighbouring tea-growing countries like China and Sri Lanka also have a lot of structured tourism activities around tea, which draw a lot of tourists.

What is Tea Tourism?

The government of West Bengal has now formulated a proper policy on tea tourism to take full advantage of the unique environment that tea gardens have to offer. The idea behind the policy of tea tourism is a well-thought out one, as the promotion of tea tourism will promote tourism, allow the tea gardens to diversify, generate local employment and augment local income.

The term ‘tea tourism’, in this context, includes a wide range of activities, and not just appreciating tea. The term refers to the whole experience of tourism in the midst of a tea garden or estate. It would include:

  • Staying in a heritage bungalow (many of the bungalows inside the tea gardens have existed from the colonial period, hence the heritage aspect gives an extra advantage), or at a home-stay in a tea resort or in a modern resort
  • Trekking in the natural beauty of a tea garden
  • Appreciating tea through undertaking tea-drinking and tea-tasting sessions
  • Experiencing the whole process of tea production, from watching, and even participating in, the plucking of tea leaves to the entire cycle of processing of tea in factories.
  • Related activities: Trekking along nature trails, witnessing local culture, patronizing local artisans

Tea tourism – the road ahead

The state government has set up a proper set of rules regarding what can and what cannot be done for promoting tea tourism in tea estates in Darjeeling district and the Dooars.

  • It is not compulsory that a tea garden has to be involved in tea tourism.
  • The core area of a tea garden cannot be used for tea tourism.
  • Tea gardens should not be removed or reduced.
  • Tourism activities can only be conducted in areas within tea gardens, not those used for cultivation.
  • Both in the plains (that is, the Dooars) and in the hills (that is, Darjeeling district), 5 acres is the maximum area inside a tea garden that can be utilised for the purposes of tea tourism.
  • Of the 5 acres, actual construction activities can be undertaken on only 1 acre for gardens located in the Dooars and on 1.5 acres for gardens located in the district of Darjeeling.
  • The rest has to be kept open for landscaping and other beautification work.
  • Any existing bungalow or guest house inside tea gardens can be used for tourism activities.
  • Any resort or hotel built for the purpose of tea tourism cannot have more than two floors.
  • The construction of hotels and resorts will have to be accomplished in an eco-friendly manner. To ensure this, any new civil construction will have to be done under the technical guidance and vetting of an expert committee of engineers and architects to be selected by the tourism department in consultation with tea associations and the Tea Board.
  • The resorts have to have adequate supply of drinking water.
  • Waste management has to follow environment-friendly methods.

Ownership patterns

  • If the companies owning tea gardens want to undertake tea tourism under new names, resumption under sub-section (3) of section 6 of the West Bengal Estates Act, 1953, will be required.
  • Also, salami and land revenue at current commercial rates will have to be paid.
  • For a joint venture company, that is, between the existing tea company and another company, resumption will be required along with a fresh lease.
  • Also, as in the case of companies undertaking tea tourism under new names, salami and land revenue at commercial rates will have to be paid.
  • Further, in any joint venture company, the tea garden company should have a majority share.
  • No outside entity will be allowed for a single owner.

How to apply

  • First, the promoter of a tea tourism business has to give a detailed project report (DPR) to the district magistrate (DM).
  • The DPR checklist for submission of a formal proposal will be developed by the state tourism department.
  • After the DM passes it, a screening committee headed by the secretary of the land and land reforms department will then examine the report.
  • The committee will then present the report to the cabinet’s Standing Committee on Industry, Infrastructure and Employment for approval.
  • The Tourism department will be the nodal department for placing the matter before the said standing committee. 
  • The green signal will be issued by the tourism department.

Riders to ensure compliance

To ensure compliance, the state has crafted a rider. If construction related to tea tourism does not start within three years, from the date of fresh lease/permission, then the lease/permission will be cancelled

Importantly, the policy has put safeguards in place to ensure that owners of closed or sick tea gardens do not indulge in illegal activities in the name of tea tourism.

Appreciation by industry

The business community of the state has responded positively to this initiative by the state government. Kallol Dutta, president of Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries, has this to say, “The government was talking about utilising land inside tea gardens for tourism activities for a long time. Now, at last, a practical step has been taken.”

Parting Thought

Tourists can experience the salubrious environment of the hills, living in old colonial houses (most of which were constructed by the British planters), enjoy the environment and learn about the tea culture and the benefits of drinking tea (this especially applies to foreign tourists), and thus carry back something to remember for the rest of their lives. The brand image and marketing of tea-producing destinations would also be enhanced. With tea tourism, the tea industry, which was in the doldrums for a long while, can finally live up to its full potential.

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Comments (2)
Abhiroop Reply
October 24, 2013
Tea tourism has a lot of potential. It should be given earnest effort.
amrita Reply
October 24, 2013
Bengal is going ahead... great news.
October 24, 2013
Yes, it's heartening to read this.
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