Tea producers are venturing into tea tourism projects in the picturesque Darjeeling hills, hoping the newly-created Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) will restore peace in the region.
The three picturesque Darjeeling hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong in northern West Bengal have been on the boil for nearly three decades over the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Agitations, killings, police crackdowns and long shutdowns had severely impacted the local economy and its mainstay, tea, and tourism.
Elected members of the GTA were sworn in earlier this month after the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) swept the polls, raising hopes that the law and order situation would improve in the hills.
Banking on this, firms possessing tea estates in the “Queen of Hills” have lined up projects for developing tea tourism.
“At least five to six proposals for setting up tea tourism projects in Darjeeling hills have recently been submitted to the West Bengal government by different companies,” Darjeeling Tea Association secretary Kaushik Basu said.
Among these are three projects from the Kolkata-based Bagaria Group and one from Sourenee Leaves Pvt Ltd (SLPL), a part of the Titagarh Group.
“According to existing laws, maximum 25 acres of non-crop land within the granted (garden) area can be used for tea-tourism, subject to government approval,” Basu informed.
According to him, a number of tea makers are interested in foraying into tea-tourism business and want to apply to the government for that.
The Bagaria Group, headed by Sheo Shankar Bagaria, wants to develop three tea tourism projects within its Orange valley Tea Estate, situated in close proximity to the Kanchenjunga Mountain range and surrounded by orange trees.
“We are waiting for the approval. Once approved, we will invest a total of Rs.30 crore in the three projects – Rs.10 crore will be spent on each project,” Bagaria said.
Tea maker Sourenee Leaves Pvt Ltd (SLPL) wants to set up a luxury hotel within its more than 100-year-old Sourenee Tea Estate in the picturesque Mirik Valley.
“We expect that we would get the approval from the government within one month. We will build a 30-room luxury hotel in the estate,” said Vinita Bajoria, a member of the promoter Titagarh Group.
She, however, did not divulge details on total investment for the project saying, “It is not yet finalised.”
Bajoria hoped that tea-tourism in Darjeeling would soon see a good business as “things have been sorted out” after the election to the GTA.
“We expect good response for our tourism project in Mirik as it has good flight connectivity from both Delhi and Kolkata,” she said. Sourenee will also use its existing bungalow at Mirik for high-end tea tourism by December this year.