17 August 2014

Protest in Mumbai against Pesticides Found in Indian Tea © Greenpeace

  My system just cannot work without 3-4 cups of tea each day and of late we have umpteen options to choose from as we come across commercials regarding the varieties and health benefits of tea such as green, black, herbal and white tea etc. I was taken aback when I learned that my energy booster is in fact a minute concoction of pesticides. While it may not have an abrupt effect on health but eventually it can take its toll. A recent Greenpeace study on 8 leading brands of tea confirms contamination.

I appreciate the logic behind Greenpeace's approach as it is a pragmatic campaign to engage the stakeholders backed with concrete research. The expectation is not to change everything overnight, it proposes to convince major tea brands to engage in a systematic research to gradually phase out pesticides and adopt sustainable and documented practices like NPM (Non-Pesticide Management) which has done wonders in places like Punukula, a village in Andhra Pradesh.

During the four day stint for Clean Chai campaign, I met quite a few inspiring people from various walks of life. A mother of 15-year-old and a H.R professional Bindu who climbed an 80ft billboard to send across the message to major tea companies to "Clean Chai Now", two volunteers Preet and Rizwaan who occupied the billboards for more than 50 hours braving humid conditions with sporadic rain during the day and nerve-jangling wind at night, an aspiring farmer Arvind who left his job to work on a piece of land near Pune to grow organic food, students from Indian Law school, Lady Shri Ram college etc, all of them determined to bring in a change. As the activity happened to be on seven billboards placed along the slums near the iconic Bandra-Worli sea link road, it was jarring to witness the ground conditions in those slums, though I have heard several accounts on Mumbai slums but the reality is much worse. No proper sanitation with human faeces all over, intoxicated people fighting, inebriated little kids. My role along with a volunteer from Pune, Benny and an engineering student from IP University Delhi, Apoorv was to ensure peace and to prop up the climbers who have occupied the billboards with any assistance on food, safety etc 24/7.

When I decided to volunteer for this cause I was cynical regarding the effect of the campaign after the recent NGO bashing by the so-called IB Report, but I was convinced that if something can be done to protect my beloved tea, this is my opportunity. Finally our little effort paid off as Unilever and Girnar tea agreed to engage in sustainable practices and some others are considering it seriously. I take great pride in Indian tea, and I wish that we also have a unique proposition of the cleanest tea in the world. You can support this cause by signing this petition and playing an important role by asking our favourite tea brands to commit to cleaning their act.

I have come across several critics who for eternity have something to complain about, "ye log ped kyon nahee lagathey", "kachda kyon nahee saaf karthey" etc, for them I sign off with this, "The big divide in this country is not between UPA and NDA, or women and men, or rich and poor, but between talkers and doers."

Click here to say yes to clean tea!

Sudesh Pillai is an aspiring entrepreneur, marketing enthusiast and a Greenpeace volunteer.