Plastic Chai Cups Will Be Phased Out at Train Stations in Favor of Kulhads, Railways Minister Pledges
The kulhad, popularly associated with hill stations, lodges, cold weather, and hot drinks, will soon populate tea stalls on railway stations across India, railways minister Piyush Goyal announced this week. In an attempt to reduce the use of plastic, he vowed to replace plastic cups with kulhads — clay cups made by potters — at all 7,349 railway stations across India. The process will create jobs for village potters throughout the country, he added.
Kulhads are environmentally-friendly and biodegradable but are used at tea stalls in only a few regions around the country. They have slowly become more and more of a rarity due to the availability of cheap, mass-produced plastic cups. But the romanticization associated with this disappearing vessel remains in the Indian psyche, with many, including Goyal, maintaining chai just tastes better when served in an earthen kulhad.
The challenge to fulfilling this promise is scale. Before the pandemic, the Indian Railways catered to 23 million passengers per day. Given Indians’ affinity for chai, it would be safe to assume a majority of these passengers are consumers. Kulhads, even when made with the help of machines, need a robust, dedicated workforce that makes them constantly, as kulhads are single-use, usually thrown on the ground after the chai has been drunk.
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India would need 2 million potters, politician and handicrafts expert Jaya Jaitly told The Guardian. These potters would need access to clay, workspaces near railway stations, and transport resources to ship the kulhads. But most importantly, the effort would need to avoid the main reason a kulhad strategy didn’t work in the past: an unnecessary focus on standardizing the kulhad shape and size, which is an impossible task considering the volume of potters, all with different skills and clays, around the country.
The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is in the process of supplying electric potting wheels and other equipment to get the initiative going. The machines will not only exponentially increase the number of kulhads potters can make a day but also translate to more income for them, expected to “go up from 2,500 rupees a month to 10,000 rupees,” the commission’s chairman, Vinai Kumar Saxena, told The Guardian.