The cultivation of tea depends upon following conditions. They are: (i) The soil should be fertile and well- drained (ii) It requires a warm and moist climate throughout the year (iii) The temperature should be 14° C to 27° C (iv) The annual rainfall should be around 150 cm to 250 cm. Frequent showers well distributed over the year is ideal. All these conditions are found in Assam particularly in the Himalayan foothills of the state.
Tea can be classified into three classes, namely, fermented or Black tea, unfermented or Green tea, defermented or Oolong tea. The stages and the manner of processing are common for all the three. First, the tender leaves are plucked and then heated for about 18-24 hours after which they are rolled down by machines which make them into small grains. They are then exposed to sun for about 30-40 minutes and then packed and sent for marketing.
Assam contributes 15.6% of world’s tea production and 55% of India’s tea output. It is the largest industry of the state, providing employment to thousands of people in the state. It is estimated that 12.5% of the total population depends on this industry for their livelihood. Tea industry brings in a great deal of revenue to the state exchequer by way of taxes, excise and road levy. The industry has been instrumental in the development of ancillary industries such as, plywood, aluminium, fertilizer, pesticides, communication and transport, warehouse industries, etc.
Tea gardens prevent soil erosion, add green cover to the state, lower down humidity and temperature and bring about rain and cool climate in the state. Currently the industry is on a downswing due to bottlenecks such as, militancy, financial crunch, decline in yield per hectare, lack of irrigational facilities, flooding of tea gardens, increased cost of production, fall in the price of tea, stiff international competition, high taxation by the Govt., etc.
Tea industry of Assam is in the grip of severe crisis mainly due to the threat of militancy and financial bottlenecks. Unless and until these two key problems are adequately settled the downward sliding of the industry would reach such a point that its return to normalcy would be impossible. The onus of putting the industry back to its rails squarely lies with the state government. But unfortunately signs of remedial steps or quick relief measures are yet to loom in the horizon.