Residents of some areas in south Kashmir have claimed to have been producing tea for the past couple of years, while the concerned department remains unaware about it.
As per the locals, Kashmiri tea is being cultivated in many places, particularly in Liver village of Anantnag district, and Kuchmullah and Nahir areas of district Pulwama.
“I have been cultivating Kashmiri tea in my farm since 2013. Our family is consuming this tea for past two years, even though its colour is not pink like that of Nun Chai (salty tea),” said Shabeena of Kuchmullah.
Sameena, another villager from Liver, added that the taste of this tea is similar to that of traditional tea.
As per a study conducted in 2013 by the department of General Surgery, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, Srinagar, everyday each household in Kashmir consumes 500-3000 milliliters of tea including Nun Chai and sugar tea. The consumption increases in winters as people love to sip hot tea in cold weather.
However, many tea brands have been found to be adulterated and thus injurious to health. “So growing tea in Kashmir can serve as a good alternative,” health experts opined.
While Kashmiris have claimed to grow tea in Kashmir, the concerned department expressed ignorance about the same.
“We have not heard about the tea production in Kashmir before,” said Muhammad Harun Malik, Director Agriculture Kashmir. “I am not expert with regard to tea and I have recently taken the charge,” he added.
Interestingly, Jammu and Kashmir does not have a tea board office. Advisor, Tea Board of India, A K Kala, said they too were unaware of tea production in Kashmir.
He added that if people were sure to have been growing tea, they should approach the Tea Board of India or J&K’s nearest tea board office in Himachal Pradesh, “where they shall be provided with the required assistance.”
“If tea is being cultivated in Kashmir, it has to be made commercially viable. We can conduct technical studies in this regard and take samples accordingly,” he said.
Meanwhile, Director Tea Board Kolkata, S Sundarajan, said the board shall discuss the matter with Tea Development Board, Himachal Pradesh, who shall then send a team of experts to J&K.
Experts at Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K), said it may not be the same crop that comes from Assam, Himachal Pradesh or south India, but can be similar to Mulberry leaves that some people consume as tea.
“I urge the concerned officials to test the particular crop as it may not contain certain intoxicants, which have side-effects. I am not sure if it is similar to Assam crop as the later needs different soil and climatic conditions that are not available in Kashmir,” said Dr Muhammad Yusuf Zargar, Dean Faculty of Agriculture, SKUAST-K.
Experts insisted on the SKUAST-K to promote tea cultivation in Kashmir. “They should support the tea growers and farmers as there is no support from the government,” said Shakeel Qalandar, noted industrialist and former president Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir.