These tea estates are ‘not for sale’

Palampur residents against giving their tea gardens to Army | Say the move will hit tourism prospects in the region

Ravinder Sood

Residents of Palampur have strongly opposed the government’s recent move of “selling tea gardens for setting up defence establishments in Gopalpur and Nagri areas”, 10 km from here.

They asserted that if the tea gardens were sold and concrete jungles were developed in tea estates, it would adversely hit the tourism industry and spoil the clean and green environment of Kangra valley. Beautiful tea gardens of the valley situated in the foothills of snow-clad Dhauladhar range attracts thousands of tourists every year.

Ministry of Home Affairs in a letter had asked the state government to explore the possibilities for providing 88 acre land for setting up an Army cantonment in Gopalpur and Nagri areas of Palampur. The land is stated to be under tea cultivation at present. As soon as the contents of the letter of the Home Ministry came in public domain, area residents lodged strong protest and opposed the move asking the state government to turn down the request to save the lush green tea gardens of Kangra valley.

Vijay Kumar of Gopalpur said the government should not allow the sale of tea gardens as these were the pride of Kangra valley. Instead of allowing its sale, the government should bring more land under tea cultivation like Kerala and Karnataka. He said some property dealers were behind the proposed sale of tea gardens in connivance with local politicians. He appealed to CM Jai Ram Thakur to intervene and save the tea lands of Kangra. 

Vinod Kumar of Nagri said if the government will allow the sale of tea gardens, it would result in unemployment and dislodge those who were engaged in the tourism industry by setting up small shops, restaurants or vends. He said there was no justification in converting green areas into concrete jungles and said the government should provide alternative land lying vacant. 

KB Ralhan, member of People’s Voice, an NGO fighting for the protections of environment in Palampur, have asked the government not to allow the sale of tea gardens in the valley. If the tea gardens would be sold off, it would be a major environmental threat, he said.

What riled residents

  • Ministry of Home Affairs in a letter had asked the state government to explore the possibilities for providing 88 acre land for setting up an Army cantonment in Gopalpur and Nagri areas of Palampur. 
  • The land is stated to be under tea cultivation at present.
  • As soon as the contents of the letter of the Home Ministry came in public domain, area residents lodged a strong protest and opposed the move asking the state government to turn down the request to save the lush green tea gardens of Kangra valley.

Tea first introduced between 1830 and 1840 in Kangra valley

  • Tea has been cultivated and manufactured in Kangra valley since the middle of last century. It was first introduced between 1830 and 1840, by European Tea Planters, known as Nissan Tea Company. The valley grows the hybrid China tea, known to be rich in flavour, and compares favourably with the tea grown in other parts of the world.
  • In the early years, the tea industry flourished very well in the valley because of suitable agro-climatic conditions and availability of plenty of land for tea cultivation. The tea seed imported from China responded well in the valley’s podozolic gley soil with PH of about 5.4. Perhaps, very few people knew that Kangra tea was awarded a gold medal at an exhibition in London in 1886. Until 1905, the Kangra tea was rated finest in the world for its flavour and quality.
  • Kangra earthquake of 1905 proved fatal for Kangra tea, when it destroyed a large number of tea gardens. Several tea factories were razed to earth and a number of tea planters were killed. The then British administration declared the Kangra valley as unsafe zone and almost all European Tea Planters left the valley after selling their plantation to Indians. This was not the end, it received another setback in 1914 after the First World War, when people joined the Army and labour availability further adversely affected it, which further discouraged and demoralised the surviving tea planters.

What the law says...

  • The HP Land Sealing Act, 1971, imposes complete ban on the sale of tea gardens in the state. Tea gardens can be sold only with the prior permission of the state government. One cannot even change the land use without the permission of the state government.
  • The Himachal Pradesh High Court has also upheld the state government’s ban on changing the land use of tea estates in the picturesque Kangra valley, which are exempted from the Land Ceiling Act. The landmark judgment justifies the execution of the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holdings (Amendment) Act of 1999, which empowers the government to acquire the land if it is put to some other purpose, other than raising Kangra tea, known for its unique flavour and quality. 
  • Upholding the amendments carried out to the Himachal Pradesh Ceiling on Land Holdings Act of 1972, a division bench comprising Chief Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice RB Misra had said: “Taking an overall view of the matter, we find no merit in the challenge to the validity of the amended provisions.”

The tea gardens of Gopalpur are a major tourist attraction and the government should not grant permission for the sale of these gardens to the government of India. I am not opposed to setting up a cantonment or other defence establishment, but other land should be given to the Army for the construction of cantonment instead of converting the green areas covered with tea plantations into concrete jungles. — Parveen Sharma, Former MLA

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