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Pandemic takes ‘golden’ sheen off Guwahati tea auction centre

Guwahati Tea Auction Centre. Photo used for representation purpose only. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC), one of the world’s largest by volume traded, completed 50 years on Friday amid restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that robbed it of its golden sheen.

Buyers and sellers, adhering to social distancing norms, marked the day digitally with a low-key programme. Pithily, it encapsulated GTAC’s journey from the “outcry” system to e-auctioning that helped Assam’s tea industry absorb the initial blows of the pandemic.

Assam’s tea used to be traded via the auction centre at Kolkata, the world’s second after London’s, prior to the establishment of GTAC on September 25, 1970. But planters in Assam sought an auctioning system closer home after the country’s independence.

GTAC sold 9.1 million kg of tea at an average price of ₹5.68 per kg in 1970 with tea trader Zafar Ali buying the first lot of 1,317 kg of broken orange pekoe from the Haroocharai Tea Estate at ₹42.50 per kg.

Outcry system

“The auction centre functioned initially from a stadium guesthouse and the lots were sold via the outcry system that involved shouting out the bid by a buyer for the auctioneer to hammer down in favour of the highest bidder,” said GTAC secretary Priyanuz Dutta.

Today, GTAC is the second highest selling centre in the world recording a total sale of 204 million kg of tea during the 2019-20 fiscal at an average price of ₹139.63 per kg of primarily crush, tear and curl, or CTC tea.

According to a study by the Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University, GTAC is among 14 tea auction centres on earth, nine of which are in India. The Kolkata Tea Auction Centre is the oldest (1861) and the one at Jalpaiguri in northern West Bengal is the newest (2005).

“From the 1960s, efforts were on to set up the auction centre in Guwahati. Today, GTAC has world-class infrastructure,” said Dinesh Bihani, secretary of the Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association.

GTAC went digital in 2010 when the Tea Board of India introduced an e-platform for buying and selling tea as a pan-India auction system. The centre became India’s first to sell its tea globally through a digital prompt payment system.

The GTAC had a few days ago introduced a tea lounge where the best quality Assam tea from the finest estates are available for buying and tasting.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 12:34:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/pandemic-takes-golden-sheen-off-guwahati-tea-auction-centre/article32700013.ece

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