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'Centre keeping a close watch on tea prices'

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"It may not be possible to fix one minimum price for made tea."

New Delhi , Aug 25

THE Union Government is keeping a close watch on tea prices in the wake of its general depression in recent years and a steep decline in the South, especially in the Nilgiris, the Union Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, told the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

The minister said the steepest fall in tea prices in the Nilgiris district was due to a profusion in the growth of leaf tea, which had led to increased plucking and also to a comparatively poor quality of green leaf plucked for supply to the processing factories.

He was responding to a calling attention motion on the "situation arising out of an unprecedented fall in the price of green tea leaves, particularly in Nilgiris hill district of Tamil Nadu". But the minister added, "good quality leaf continues to get reasonably good prices and better quality made tea also fetches good prices, despite the decline in average prices."

On the initiatives being taken to address the issues of quality, Mr Nath said, "Tea Board had launched a Quality Awareness Programme in July 2000 in the Nilgiris and it is being continued till date."

This programme is being implemented in collaboration with United Planters Association of South India Krishi Vighya Kendra/KVK, the Department of Horticulture, Government of Tamil Nadu, NGOs and self-help groups.

He said in addition to the efforts of the Tea Board to persuade the factories to produce quality tea, it had become necessary to enforce quality norms, which conform to standards laid down under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. The Tea Board had taken up various steps in this regard, including action against those factories, which have been found to produce sub-standard teas, he said.

On the plea of the Nilgiris Small Tea Growers' Association for a minimum price for green tea and also for made tea, the Minister said it might not be possible to fix one minimum price for made tea, as the price depends on differences in categories — whole, broken, fannings and dust — which again have different grade variations.

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