Bird-blended tea sweepings sold here and abroad

By Damith Wickremasekera

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recently busted a racket in packing and selling tea dust (sweepings) to the local market level, as well as for export, in an illegal manner that could have a far reaching adverse effect on Sri Lanka’s tea exports.

A special Police team comprising of CID officials and STF personnel had been deployed in the Wattala, Hendala, Seeduwa, Wellaboda and Ambalangoda areas where the racketeers were operating, CID sources said. In one factory in Wattala, Police found as much as 40,000 kg of tea dust, in the Wellaboda, Ambalangoda area raids, 68,000 kg in one place and another 17,000 kg in another. At Seeduwa and Hendala factories 18,000 kg were recovered.

The tea dust had been mixed with condis and potassium for colour, while other chemicals too had been added to the mixture. Poultry farms were the choice of locations for the ‘blending’ of all the tea dust, rendering the produce highly unhygienic and hence, unsuitable for human consumption.

It was learnt that to cut ‘blending’ costs, the suspects had used the poultry farm to have the tea mixed by allowing the birds to walk all over the tea dust. The tea so prepared was packeted and sold in the Pettah market at a low price. To avoid the tea tax at Customs, the illicit tea was exported as coir dust, the tax for which is only Rs 20 per kg.

The CID intends questioning Customs’ authorities in their investigations, to ascertain how the tea export tax was bypassed. Eight suspects have even rounded up in this connection to date, while more arrests are likely.CID officials said that the export of such poor quality tea ruins the country’s reputation as a producer of premium quality tea.

The raid was carried out on the instructions of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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