A former tea industry personality plans to file legal action once again, this time on the grounds of ‘Contempt of Court’, in relation to the recent talks by authorities for setting up a tea hub or blending centre in the island.
Ratna Gamage, a Sri Lankan entrepreneur and a former tea factory owner, who obtained a court order from the Supreme Court banning the import of off grade teas in 2000, stated that the current talks by the authorities to set up a tea hub, were contemptuous of the court order which he had obtained.
In the year 2000, Gamage filed action in the Human R igh ts Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC) against the then Tea Board, Tea Commissioner, Plantations Minister and the Attorney General for the importation of off grade teas, which he claimed threatened the livelihood of thousands of rural tea smallholders who produced the bulk of the country’s tea exports.
His argument before the HRC was that the Tea Board had encouraged persons engaged in the tea industry to either convert orthodox tea processing factories to CTC (Cut, Tear and Curve) tea factories or establish new CTC tea factories in Sri Lanka.
After initial investigations, Gamage’s company established a CTC factory at Mattaka due to the inducement and encouragement given by the Tea Board and the Tea Commissioner and the factory was inaugurated on July 3, 1995.
As the tea factories in the country at the time produced sufficient quantities of orthodox tea, the circular by the Tea Board directed that permits be issued only for the importation of CTC teas and specialty teas.
Gamage’s complaint in the HRC was that off grade teas were being imported into Sri Lanka in spite of the prohibition. The position taken up by him at the commission was that such imports prejudiced his legitimate expectation the government would act in a manner to safeguard the manufacturers of CTC tea, including him.
During the HRC sessions, the Tea Board had agreed to ensure that there were no imports of off grade teas into Sri Lanka and both parties had come to a settlement of the matter.
Thereafter, the Supreme Court, endorsing the award of the HRC had issued an order to the same effect. However, Gamage states that now since the authorities have once again brought the topic of importing tea into the island, he plans to take action, citing the Chairman of the Tea Board, Janaki Kuruppu, Tea Commissioner, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Attorney General as respondents in his petition.
In a recent forum, Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundara too had strongly emphasized that the quality of Sri Lanka tea should be preserved and protected uncompromisingly.
He made this statement at Dilmah Tea Global Distributor Conference in Colombo highlighting that the government should discourage the contamination of Sri Lankan tea with imported low quality teas for export purposes.
Addressing the conference with over 200 foreign delegates in attendance, the Finance Secretary said, Sri Lanka has tremendous comparative advantage in tea and can even make it a 3 billion dollar industry by year 2022 and that Tea Exporters Association (TEA) should not import cheap low-quality teas for blending with Sri Lankan tea for re-export.
Although the TEA argues that the relatively high cost of Ceylon Tea prevents local players from competing with international brands, industry experts have repeatedly warned that the priceless image of ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ established over centuries would be irreparably damaged if free importation of foreign black teas was allowed. A media conference will be held by the Tea Exporters Association today to communicate their stance on the matter.