Home India News Gorkhaland stir hits Darjeeling’s tea, tourism

Gorkhaland stir hits Darjeeling’s tea, tourism

By Aparajita Gupta, IANS,

Darjeeling : Shutdowns and agitations in support of a separate Gorkhaland state have begun to hit Darjeeling’s tourism, apart from ruining the flavour of its tea industry.

“Tourists are still visiting Darjeeling, but the uncertainty is creating apprehensions among them,” said Pradip Singh Arora, vice president of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association.

“They can’t stay here freely. There are apprehensions among tourists that when a bandh (shutdown) starts, they have to leave the place,” Arora told IANS.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the movement in the hills for a separate Gorkhaland state, have organised indefinite shutdowns over the past two years, severely hitting the tea and tourism sectors — the region’s bread and butter.

And during the past one month, intensified agitations have disrupted normal life even further.

Echoing Arora, Travel Agent Federation of India (eastern India) chairman Anil Punjabi told IANS: “The frequent bandhs are affecting the tourism sector in a major way.”

Punjabi said tourist arrivals have dropped by 25 percent over the past two years, adding: “Now we don’t count Darjeeling as a major tourist spot. Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh are benefiting.”

The tea industry is also not untouched, though pro-Gorkhaland agitators say they will exempt the tea and tourism sectors from shutdowns.

Tea Board of India chairman Basudeb Banerjee is not convinced.

“During the second flush (April-June growing season) last year, political problems caused disruptions. Sometimes those who call bandhs exempt the tea industry, but that does not help all the time,” said Banerjee.

“Last year people came from the UK and Germany. They wanted to visit gardens in Darjeeling but could not due to the shutdowns,” he added.

Moreover, according to him, the tea produced in the region needs to be quickly ferried to warehouses. “Darjeeling tea is mostly exported. We have to bring it to the city fast as there are not many good warehouses in the hills.”

Added Rajah Banerjee, owner of the 150-year-old Makaibari Tea Estate at Kurseong: “Majority of voters work in tea estates, they go off for rallies every now and then. This hits production. Last year, production fell 25-20 percent.”

Makaibari produces 120 tonnes of tea annually, of which 70 percent is exported.

(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])