By Cheranka Mendis
Appealing to the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa for quick action, newly-elected Chairman of the Tea Exporters Association (TEA) Niraj De Mel on Friday warned that the industry was facing serious threats from “organised mafia,” which carries out a smooth operation of replacing Ceylon tea with low quality substitutes in bulk form.
Speaking at the association’s AGM where Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest, De Mel called for help from Defence Secretary to put an immediate stop to theft and adulteration happening in the industry.
– Pic by Upul Abayasekara
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was the Chief Guest at the Tea Exporters Association Annual General Meeting on Friday was bombarded with thorny issues afflicting the tea sector. Here, Rajapaksa in conversation with Tea Board Marketing Committee member Rohantha Athukorala (second from right) and MTI Consulting CEO Hilmy Cader (second from left), who made the keynote presentation titled ‘Global Trends: Local Realities: Implications for the Sri Lankan Tea Industry’ at the AGM. Tea Exporters Association Outgoing Chairman Rohan Fernando (right) and Triad Advertising Joint Managing Director and top stock market investor Director Dilith Jayaweera are also present
“Sir, we need your help,” De Mel stressed, “this is a dangerous trend and must be stopped almost immediately and wrongdoers must be severely dealt with, no matter who is behind such organised crime.”
He stated that if the present trend of thieving and robbing continued, the world would soon begin to question the purity of ‘pure Ceylon tea’.
“The thieving is not limited to just a few 100 kgs but much larger quantities. The quality tea stolen has been replaced with low quality substitutes en route to tea exporters’ warehouses. This has caused untold hardships for many of our members with regard to meeting customer quality standards and guidelines. This has become a large scale business and smooth operation, and the tea industry is now under threat from organised mafia. Adding fuel to fire is the adulteration at factory levels," De Mel said.
“Our competitors are envious of Ceylon Tea, as amply demonstrated by many producer countries wanting to follow Sri Lanka’s success story. However, the success of the industry for over 100 years is that it worked on trust,” claimed De Mel.
He stated that tea purchasing worth of thousands of rupees then and millions now are based on 100g samples. “Today the industry stakeholders are fighting hard to keep it that way, amidst threats of a small cancerous segment trying to make a quick buck without thinking of the next generation.”
“Indiscipline should not be allowed to raise its ugly head in this industry. This game of beating around the bush must stop and the attitude of ‘I take all’ must end,” he stressed.
De Mel along with the Past TEA Chairman Jayantha Keragala urged the Defence Secretary, who was the Chief Guest at the event, to help restore the situation, adding, “We hope that under your stewardship many things can be done to resolve this issue.”