Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tea to be the Indian national drink: Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia stirs up a storm in tea cup

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh
Ahluwalia on Saturday stirred up a storm in a tea cup when he
announced at Jorhat in Assam that tea would be declared as national
drink by April next year.

Coffee lovers, naturopaths, and nutritionists have strongly opposed
the proposal wondering how a beverage that could cause damage to
health deserves the status of a national drink. A national drink
should good for the health of all and its excess consumption should
not cause any problems, they say, adding that tea if consumed in large
quantities is bad for health.

The city-based National Institute of Nutrition, the premier research
body that takes care of the nutrition and health needs of all Indians,
in its “dietary guidelines” warns, “Excess tea consumption is
deleterious to health”. In fact, it has suggested “decaffeinated tea
to obviate the adverse effects of caffeine content present in the tea”.

Unmindful of the national dietary guidelines, Montek Singh said, “The
drink would be accorded national drink status by April 17 next year to
coincide with the 212th birth anniversary of first Assamese tea
planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader Maniram Dewan."

Montek Singh’s promise may have made tea planters and manufacturers
happy, but senior nutritionist Suneetha Sapur, who heads the Akkshaya
Foundation, argued, “Tea has tannins, which hinder the absorption of
iron by 50 per cent. When the government has to spend crores of rupees
to prevent anaemia, in the form of IFA tablets, awareness and on
research to fortify foods to prevent anaemia, is it appropriate to
promote tea that curtails the absorption of iron when taken along with

Sharply reacting to the tea proposal, naturopaths demanded that tender
coconut water, lassi, milk or neembu pani (lemon water) should be
declared as the national drink. Said Dr Mohammad Azeem, a naturopath,
“We have many traditional drinks that are not only nutritious, but
also curative and preventive in nature. Tea may have a history of 212
years, but tender coconut water is as old as human origin. And who can
deny the health benefits of lemon water, milk and lassi”.

Justifying his announcement, Dr Montek Singh said, “It was Maniram
Dewan, who was not only the first indigenous tea planter but also
involved in the national movement.” The other important reason is that
half of the tea industry labour comprises women and is the largest
employer in the organised sector.

He said India is the largest producer and consumer of black tea in the
world. According to ORG-India Tea Consumption Study, 83 per cent
households in India consume tea and is the cheapest beverage in the
world after water. Montek Singh also announced that a tearoom of
international standard 'Chai Bar', the first of its kind in the
region, would be soon opened at the Gauhati Tea Auction Centre. It
will serve more than 50 types of best quality tea.

Chai took the lead among the trends on the microblogging site,
Twitter, with VIPs too joining the debate. Kashmir chief minister Omar
Abdullah tweeted, “on that note I end my rant. Will now go drown my
sorrows in a mug of the national drink”.

Unreal times, a media website that mocks with fake news, said “Koffee
with Karan too be re-branded as Chai with Chaman in honour of national
drink. One of the tweets said, “Umpire also celebrating news of
national drink making T using his hands to declare strategic time out
in IPL”.

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