Lepcha Festival at Kalimpong

The 274th birth anniversary of Pano Gaeboo Achyok was celebrated today amid huge pomp and fanfare.

According to the Lepchas, Achyok was their last king and members of the community had come from across the district western Bhutan, Sikkim and other parts of India to join the festivities.

Organised by the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association in collaboration with the Central government-run Indira Gandhi National Museum of Mankind, the celebrations included a host of cultural programmes, an awards ceremony, an archery competition (see picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha) and the release of three Lepcha books.

The celebrations started early in the morning with the Lepchas offering prayers to Gaeboo Achyok at Damsang Fort, 20 km from here. The fort is believed to have been built by Achyok.

The rest of the programme was held at lower Bong bustee. The programme, which is being held annually since 1982, was conducted entirely in the Lepcha language.

Later, a local band, Alain, played popular modern songs to regale the crowd.

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Scam in Siliguri Tea Auction

The arrest of a tea trader today in connection with the multi-crore tax evasion scam — that was detected in March this year — has shaken the industry.

The development follows closely on the heels of another scam in which “non-existent” tea worth over Rs 30 lakh was sold at Siliguri Tea Auction Centre.

Armed with an arrest warrant issued by the additional chief judicial magistrate, Barrackpore, sleuths of the bureau of investigation (BoI), the investigation wing of the sales tax department, raided the Milanpally house of tea trader Shyamlal Agarwal at 1.30 early this morning.

He was taken to the Siliguri court to be produced before additional chief judicial magistrate Sanjib Dey, but was rushed to the hospital after Agarwal complained that he was feeling unwell. “The court has ordered Agarwal to be produced before it only after he is released from the hospital,” public prosecutor Subrata Saha said. “Agarwal was taken to Siliguri subdivisional hospital first and then to North Bengal Medical College. He will be under police watch,” Saha added.

Defence lawyer Chinmoye Saha said: “Just before he was to be produced, my client complained of chest pain. He had come to the court to present himself, but his health problem did not let that happen. We are waiting for him to recover.”
Agarwal is the latest trader to be arrested for his role in the scam. His name was disclosed by one of the two accused arrested earlier from Barrackpore.

In March this year, the commercial taxes directorate, as it was known earlier, unearthed massive tax evasions by traders for post-auction sale of tea. BoI sleuths found out that in more cases than one, the auction sale was made through proxy bidders on behalf of principle buyers, who did not bother to pay any central sales tax or give an account of what they did with tea bought from the auction centre.

Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association (STTA) held a hasty meeting today. Its members said Agarwal had been framed. “In good faith, he bid for a buyer, who did not pay up the taxes, putting him (Agarwal) in trouble,” a trader said. However, some felt the story could be different.

STTA secretary, criticised the manner in which Agarwal was arrested. “He is a respectable trader and a governing body member of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee, not a criminal that the BoI men arrested him in the dead of night,” he said.

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Tourism and Undecided government

The state government's ambitious plan to introduce tourism in the tea industry as an alternative source of employment in the remote areas has gone for a toss.

Potential investors who had earlier expressed interest in the project have backed off and the plan cannot be executed unless the land laws are amended.

Although Chief Minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee makes it a point to highlight 'Tea Tourism' in North Bengal as 'the possibility sans limits' at every public function, reality in the shape of the state tourism minister Mr Dinesh Dakua spoke otherwise here today.

According to the tourism minister, the land department had leased land to the tea industry to set up plantations, not for any other use.

"Therefore, investors would have to pay salami and lease value as fixed by the land department since the land use pattern would change if tourism is taken up in plantations," Mr Dakua said here today.

"The investors are unwilling to pay such sums and so, only an amendment in the land rules could make tea tourism a reality," the minister said. He also added that the idea to set up wayside facilities at strategic locations to club tea with tourism has also been scrapped.

However, there is still a ray of hope, but that and when it comes would strictly be a government venture.

The Centre has set aside a purse to pursue the tea tourism concept. "The state tourism department has earmarked two plantations close to Siliguri for the purpose. The tourism department would acquire land from these two plantations and following an inspection by Central officials, the state government would initiate the process with the Central aid," he said.

The minister, however, could not readily remember the names of the two shorlisted tea plantations.

Souce> The Statesman

Netherland to Darjeeling: A Darjeeling SANTA Update

He was on a horse, with a Bishop’s hat and a long white flowing beard, ploughing through the crowded lanes of the town, a gaggle of street children in tow and a trail of amused locals looked on.

“Father Christmas! Father Christmas!” shrieked the kids.

“Untimely Santa Claus,” nodded informed some adults, little realising that the Dutch had heralded the start of the Christmas celebrations in earnest in the town this year.

A couple from Netherlands, both students, Mr Raymond Landgraaf and Ms Blanca Van Den Brand, who are living here temporarily, were out celebrating their country’s favoured tradition, St Nicholas Day.

The couple with help from local friends rounded up street children as they marched through the town. The parade ended at the French-run café on Robertson Road, where nearly 25 children were fed, shown a film and given small gifts.

“I used to see parties happening in restaurants but I never thought I would one day be able to join one,” whispered a shy Mohammed Ashique, a 12-year-old beggar boy. The kids insisted Mr Landgraaf who was dressed in the traditional attire of Father Christmas.

“I am St Nicholas,” he countered, explaining how in the Netherlands 5 December is a big festival, where the Saint goes around on horseback distributing gifts and sweets to children.

“We just wanted to share our tradition and cheer the children here,” said Mr Landgraaf who’s a medical student from Amsterdam.

The two Frenchmen at the café La Casse Croute were up until 2:30 am this morning preparing all kinds of cookies for the children. “Ray (Mr Landgraaf) came to us and said he wanted to celebrate St Nicholas Day by feeding poor children.

I thought it was a good idea and decided to join in,” said Mr Patrice Durcudoy, one the owners of the café.

So how did you feel going around the town?

“It was really funny. First people were looking at us surprised wherever we went, but then they started to smile and wave. It will be funny telling this story to our parents later in the evening — that we celebrated St Nicholas Day in Darjeeling!” said Ms. Van Den Brand.

People now happy for Happy Valley Tea Garden

After years of uncertainty, workers of Happy Valley tea garden have seen a ray of hope.

The subdivisional magistrate’s court has appointed the block divisional officer of Bijanbari, Sonam Bhutia, as the “receiver” of the garden. The receiver is expected to look after the welfare of the workers and protect their interest until the government finds a suitable “employer” for the garden.

Happy Valley, located about 1 km from Darjeeling, is currently being managed by the GNLF-backed Happy Valley Workers’ Committee. The union members run the garden on the lines of a cooperative society.

However, it is learnt that the total tea production this year has come down, following which the union will find it difficult to see through the winters.

“The total produce from the garden this year was about 28,000 kg of made tea,” a source in the garden said. “We would have been safe if we could double the figure.”

The garden, which is spread over 296 hectares, used to employ around 330 workers. It had earlier been leased out to T. Banerjee and F. Banerjee, but sources said they were not able to run the garden due to a severe financial crunch.

Afterwards, a couple of financiers had pumped in money into the garden, but they could not run the estate as a proper administrative unit. So the workers’ union decided to form its own committee to save the garden from closing its gates.

Another problem at the garden is the unauthorised constructions coming up in the prime area. Sources said the occupants maintain that they are only barricading the area as the previous management had allegedly borrowed money from them.

A senior administrative officer, however, said: “The lease of Happy Valley expired in 2002 and has not been renewed yet.” As a result, there is a possibility that the Banerjees’ lease will be cancelled. Once this is done, prospective owners can bid for a new lease of the garden.

Sonam Bhutia held a meeting with the workers today and is also expected to conduct a survey to identify the illegal encroachers at the garden. “Since the garden is on leased land, no one has the right to sell or buy the property. If there is any encroachment, the structures have to be dismantled at any cost,” said an official.

Source> The Telegraph

Tea Garden Closures

Three gardens in the Dooars have just closed down with no sign of reopening in the near future. Several others in the Terai and Dooars regions are thinking of following suit.

U.B. Das, the secretary of Terai Branch of Indian Tea Association, makes no secret of the situation. “We are genuinely worried that the management of several tea gardens will not be able to pull through during the non-productive months from December-end to March,” Das said. “Some are trying hard to make both ends meet by investing from outside, but we are afraid that once the lean period sets in fully, operations in these gardens will come to a complete standstill.”

N.K. Basu, convener of Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said: “Last month, we wrote to the Union commerce and industries ministry explaining the situation in some of the gardens and sought central aid for them. But that has gone unheeded.”

After Madhu and Bomandanga tea estates, Samsing tea garden declared a lockout yesterday. In the Terai, Thanjhora tea estate is closed for more than a month now, albeit for a “different” (read manager assault) reason.

Going by the general apprehension in the industry, Panighata, Belgachi and Bijoynagar tea estates in the Terai and Subhashini, Nemtijhora, Jogeshchandra and Sinchula of the Dooars are some of the gardens likely to face similar consequences.

Intuc leader Alok Chakraborty calls it the “irrevocable habit” of the management. “This time, we fear they will be more ruthless and close down more than the last year’s figure of 20 gardens,” he added.

Trade union leaders alleged that the management declares suspension of work in a garden at the slightest pretext to avoid paying workers during the non-productive period.

“They take advantage of the lean period,” said Samir Roy, the secretary of the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, referring to Thanjhora, where the management declared a lockout after six managerial staff were held hostage for 19 hours and manhandled for delaying payment. The management is not willing to open the garden till action is taken against the guilty.

“That is just a ploy,” Roy said. “They are not very keen to open the garden. If they are complaining about the lack of administrative support, it is the fault of police, not the workers. The labourers were not responsible for the attack, which was carried out by some outsiders.”

“Thanjhora is a different case and is unrelated to the lean season,” Basu countered. “Since no action has been taken against the guilty, how can we be assured of the security of the managerial staff?”

Source> The Telegraph

Madhu Tea Garden workers abandoned by Missing Management without salary

There was tension in the Madhu tea garden this morning when workers, having arrived for work at 7 am, found the gates locked and the management missing.

The 323-hectare garden belongs to Diabari Tea Company and employs 951 workers.

The general secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers, Pravat Mukherjee, who had gone to the garden to speak to the workers, said the management had promised to pay arrears last Saturday, but had failed to do so. “The workers had kept the management staff confined in the office for seven hours, but the block development officer and the police intervened and some payment was made yesterday,” he said. “Despite that, the management has abandoned the garden.”

Sanjoy Bagchi, the secretary of the Indian Tea Planters Association, said the workers had rejected the management’s proposal of paying them in two instalments, one on Saturday and the other on Monday. “The workers became violent and harassed manager Subrata Roy and the two garden owners, N.M. Kedia and U. Sharma, and also broke furniture in the office,” Bagchi said.

“The new owners who took over in March this year have been clearing the arrears left behind by the previous owners, but now they are feeling threatened and have declared a suspension of work,” Bagchi added. He also said an FIR against 10 workers has been filed with the police outpost in Hashimara and the garden will remain closed till they are arrested.

Kumar Chhetri, the unit secretary of the workers union, alleged that there was no drinking water supply in the garden and no health facilities. “Sixteen persons, including children, have recently died of malaria and diarrhoea. Yesterday, two more persons died, among them an eight-year-old boy,” Chhetri said.

Alipurduar subdivisional officer Soumitra Mohan said the labour department would sort out the problem in the garden.

Tea Auctions proved to be a Fatal Game

Less than a year after the multi-crore tax evasion scam involving buyers, the tea industry finds itself grappling with another scandal.

This time it involves three tea gardens, a warehouse-keeper and four brokers.

Described as unprecedented in the history of tea industry, transaction worth several lakhs (exact amount yet to be determined) has been made at Siliguri Tea Auction Centre in lieu of tea, which did not exist at all.

The matter came to light early this month when the brokers could not deliver the produce to buyers even after payments were made. Not only this, the buyers who had their goods delivered, found that the tea they finally got was far inferior than what was offered as samples at the auction.

Sources said the malpractice was confirmed when the Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association’s warehouse committee raided Bijoynagar Tea Company’s Siliguri Tea Warehouse.

“The raid revealed that the warehouse did not have the tea for which it had provided the Arrival and Weighment Report (AWR) to the brokers. Also, the tea samples, on the basis of which bidding took place, were not from the tea lots that were supplied to the buyers,” a tea trader said.

According to auction rules, tea can be put up for auction only after the entire lot has reached the warehouses. On receiving the AWR, the broker is expected to inspect the produce and samples before entering them in his catalogue for bidding.

The matter was immediately taken up with the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee, which issued showcause notices (Reference no. C/3/3/2005/516) to the four brokers of the deal — Parkon India Pvt. Ltd, Care Tea Pvt. Ltd, Associated Brokers and Tea Champagne — and the warehouse-keeper. Incidentally, the three gardens, Bijoynagar, Mogulkata and Subashini, from where the samples came, are all part of the Bijoynagar Tea Company group.

The auction committee took the matter up with Tea Board. “Stern measures will be taken if any violation of the law is proven,” said A. Roy Choudhury, deputy director of Tea Board, Siliguri.

The four brokers have agreed to pay up 30 per cent of the sales transaction to the buyers as compensation.

Source> The Telegraph

New owner to give a facelift to the four tea gardens

With a plan to invest Rs 100 crore in the tea industry in the next three years, Gopinath Das promises to give a new lease of life not only to the four gardens — Dekhlapara, Raimatang, Kalchini and Shikarpur — that he has bought, but also to the region as a whole.

The entrepreneur who was today welcomed by more than 1,000 workers of Raimatang and Kalchini tea estates said he was overwhelmed by the reception.

“I will ensure that the workers get their dues and the gardens function systematically,” Das said. Amid shouts of aap hamare liye bhagawan hai hum logoko bachaiye (You are god. Save us), he made his way to the Kalchini garden factory around 8.30 am. Das later visited Raimatang.

Das outlined some of the plans that he has in store for the region. He said to promote tea tourism he would start helicopter services from Bagdogra to the four gardens. The 18 bungalows of Kalchini and Raimatang — around 40 km from Alipurduar — will also be renovated for visitors. A golf course is also in the pipeline.

“We will also make a documentary on north Bengal which will be screened across the world to attract tourists. I am spending Rs 4 lakh to complete it,” said Das.

Elaborating his plans for the gardens, Das said 60 per cent of the tea bushes would be uprooted since they were almost a century old.

“I have taken a risk and want to show the world that it is worth it,” he said.

Soure > The Telegraph

A Warm Welcome to New Owner of Kalchini and Raimatang Tea Estates

Workers of Kalchini and Raimatang tea estates in Kalchini block are preparing a warm reception tomorrow for the new owner of the gardens.

Gopinath Das, who has bought the estates from R.K. Konoi of Buxa Dooars Tea Company Ltd, had convened a meeting at the circuit house here yesterday to announce the date on which he would visit the estates. The subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, Saumitra Mohan, and trade union leaders had attended the meet.

For the past three years, operations at the gardens had been irregular. Not only did the management fail to give workers their wages and their ration, it also owed the electricity department Rs 12 lakh. On August 25, the power supply to the two estates was cut off.

In September, seven managers from the two gardens resigned. What followed next was a series of workers’ protests — from stripping the almost century-old European Club brick by brick to arranging road and train blockades.

Finally, the gardens were taken over by Das last week.

Pravat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers, affiliated to the Intuc, said: “We are very happy that the district administration took the initiative to hand over the gardens to a new owner. Tomorrow morning, Das will visit the estates and we are planning a warm reception for him.”

Das, who had also bought Dheklapara Tea Garden, said he would first restart the garden hospitals. “I will also talk to the garden leaders regarding the workers’ dues and see to it that the estates run systematically,” he added.

Soure> The Telegraph

Managers Fled without paying the tea laborers

The block development officer of Kalchini, Subhrajyoti Saha, was gheraoed for two hours today by workers of Chinchula Tea Garden, who demanded that their wages be paid immediately along with other dues.

The workers complained that the manager and his assistants had fled their quarters last night. Dooars Branch Indian Tea Association secretary P.K. Bhattacharya said efforts were on to arrange a meeting with the estate owner and the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar.

Russian Tea Delegates visits Darjeeling Tea Gardens

Hosted by the Tea Board of India, a delegation of journalists from Russia and Kazakhstan who are visiting the tea-growing regions of the country, arrived here on the last leg of their journey.
The seven-member team today interacted with the Darjeeling Tea Association and the local media, after arriving from Assam yesterday evening.

The delegation is being accompanied by Mr A Roychoudhary, Deputy Director (Plantation), Tea Board.

Russia, before its disintegration, was one of the largest buyers of Darjeeling tea. Today, the Russian market for Darjeeling tea is negligible, with the emergence of buyers in Germany, Japan and UK. There is hope in the industry here that the past scenario could be revived.

“The original Russian market used to buy even our rain-tea,” noted a tea planter here. Rain-tea is produced during the rainy season and is considered to be the most inferior grade of the industry. The tea is sold at less than quarter of the price obtaining for “flush-teas” – the premium variety – and is not meant for export market.

“Because everything we produced was bought by the Russians those days, we did not even have to focus on the quality of the product as we have to now. It will be good if the Russians agree to buy our rain-teas at least,” the planter said.

The delegation wanted to know why Darjeeling tea was so expensive and if its price could be brought down.

They also wanted to know on what parameters was Darje-eling tea considered to be better compared to other teas, like that from Indonesia.

Delegation members, speaking through an interpreter, said most of the tea consumed in Russia came these days from China, Japan, Vietnam. They also disclosed that the healthiness of tea drinking was being acknowledged in their countries.

The members complained about blended tea preventing tea drinkers from experiencing genuine quality.
“It is hard to get pure Darjeeling tea,” said a Russian member, while noting that most of the Indian tea available in Russia was from Assam.

The delegation today visited Thorbu and Takvar tea gardens. Tomorrow they are scheduled to visit Ging and Ambotia, where they are keen to see the manufacturing of organic tea, said Mr Sandip Mukerjee, secretary, DTA.

The guests include Ms Olga Papova, Ms Svetlana Olifirova, Mr Alexander Merman, Mr Maxim Evdokimov and Ms Olga Tikhinrov from Russia and Ms Larissa Uvaliyeva and Ms Irina Bazhenova from Kazakhstan.

Source> The Statesman

Mujnai Tea Estate Back to Normal Life

After remaining closed for 17 days, Mujnai Tea Estate limped back to normal with three assistant managers reporting for work today.

The garden was shut down after the manager of the estate was assaulted by workers on October 29.

Trouble erupted when the manager, K.K. Tiwari, told workers that he could not arrange the total amount necessary for the payment of monthly wages. This irked the workers, who beat him till he lost consciousness.

A team of policemen from Madarihat, which, came to rescue the injured manager from the site was rebuffed. Tiwari was finally saved when a large police contingent led by subdivisional police officer Bhashkar Mukherjee arrived at the scene. He was then taken to Birpara State General Hospital from where he was sent to Siliguri for proper treatment.

On October 31, on instructions of the administration and in the presence of the garden’s accountant, Sujit Dutta, wages for 15 days and ration for one month was distributed among workers.

The garden manager then filed an FIR with the Madarihat police station against nine workers, accusing them of assaulting him. On November 7, seven of the nine accused surrendered at the Madarihat police station. They were produced in the court of the Alipurduar subdivisional judicial magistrate the same day and were released on bail. The garden remained closed till yesterday and workers plucked green leaves of their own accord and sold them without permission.

This morning, normality was restored in the garden and the management has decided to take action against the accused persons. The workers will not be given wages for the last 16 days.
Sanjoy Bagchi, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said: “During the last 17 days, workers illegally sold green leaf and we intend to file an FIR in this connection. On Thursday we will discuss our problems at a meeting in the chamber of the deputy labour commissioner of Jalpaiguri.”

Nakul Sonar, the secretary of the Congress-backed National Union of Plantation Workers, has welcomed the management’s decision to restore normality.

Source> The Telegraph

The Indian Tea Board's Intervention

The Tea Board has stepped in to resolve the ongoing conflict between the small tea growers and the bought leaf factories.

A meeting has been convened to sort out the serious controversy over price sharing formula suggested by the Union commerce and industry ministry.

At the receiving end in this strife, the small tea growers feel encouraged with the Tea Board’s intervention.

“It is some light at the end of the tunnel. But the conditions can improve only if the Tea Board creates some quality parameter,” the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Association secretary Mr Bijoygopal Chakrabarty said.

The bought leaf factories, which are being viewed as the bad boys in the ongoing controversy are equally eager to rectify the situation. “We wish to urge the Tea Board and the small tea growers to ensure supply of quality tea leaf, which would automatically attract decent prices and put to rest the entire controversy,” the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association president Mr Prabir Seal said.

By the industry’s standards, holdings up to 25 acres under tea are considered small tea plantations. Over 15,000 such holdings have mushroomed in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur districts since 1997 when tea was enjoying a boom period.

The tea glut thereafter violated the basic demand and supply theory and then came the slump. Since then, it has been a struggle for existence for many and a large number of conventional peasants who had taken to tea cultivation in their small holdings were the worst hit.The problem compounded after the emergence of the bought leaf factories, which are primarily manufacturing units without plantations. The BLFs procure their entire raw material from the small growers but the two are always at loggerheads over the price factor.

To erase the problem, the Union commerce and industry ministry fixed a price sharing formula between the BLFs and the small growers.

The allegation from the small growers’ end is that the BLFs do not adhere to the formula. “Instead they dictate their own and since tea is a perishable item, the small growers have to make distress sales at dirtcheap prices,” the UFSTGA secretary said.

“Not always true,” counters the NBTPA president. “There is another side to the story. A number of small growers do not follow the plucking regimen. No one would offer them good price if they do not maintain quality,” he said.

According to him at least 40 percent of the crop supplied should be of a specific standard or the quality of tea suffers, neither would it fetch remunerative prices.

Source> The Statesman

Tea Laborers of 3 Darjeeling Tea gardens without wage

Workers of the three closed Darjeeling tea gardens, now with the government, have not received their payments since March.

Workers of Peshok, Vah-Takvar in Darjeeling sub-division and Putung located in Kurseong sub-division had been receiving a monthly relief of Rs 500. These gardens used to be under the Tea Trading Corporation of India (TTCI), a body under Union ministry of commerce and industries.

Labor officials here said that after March there has been no allotment towards relief payment to the workers, neither has there been any communication on the matter by relevant authorities.

“We don’t even know what is happening with the TTCI, whether it exists at all,” said an official.

“The last we knew was that the Centre wanted to dissolve the TTCI,” he added. Reportedly, the TTCI handed over Putung Tea Estate to the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation in 2002. The TTCI had taken over the garden, with a workforce of 230 and a population of 1050 in 1985. It ceased operations in 2000.

The Peshok Tea Estate, a garden comprising of nearly 1000 workers and around 331 hectares have been closed since 1996. Vah Tukvar Tea Estate was also closed about the same time and it has about 700 workers.

Source> The Statesman

Nicholas Roerich's Art finds a place in Darjeeling

One of the strongest links between Russia and Darjeeling, besides tea, has been artist, Nicholas Roerich. He produced quite a few of his mystical visions of the Himalayas, now world renowned, while living in Darjeeling in the 1920s.

A long overdue exhibition of Roerich’s prints was inaugurated for the first time in Darjeeling today, thanks to Gorky Sadan, Kolkata. Set up as a unique street exhibition, nearly 100 prints of Roerich’s work, mainly relating to the Himalayas, are on display on the Mall here.

Mr Fyodor A Rozovskiy, counsellor, Embassy of Russian Federation, who is also director, Russian Centre of Science and Culture, New Delhi, inaugurated the exhibition this morning. He said: “The hills of Darjeeling have a unique place in the cultural relations between Russia and India. These mountains have been a great source of inspiration for legendary artist, philosopher, humanist, Nicholas Roerich and his family.”

It may be worth noting, Nicholas Roerich was the father of Svetoslav Roerich who married Indian actress, Devika Rani. Nicholas’ wife, Helena had died in Kalimpong in 1955 and a stupa is erected at the place where she was cremated. The stupa is now situated next to Durpin Monastery.

The Roerich exhibition also contains several works of Svetsolav. Mr Rozovskiy said that the Russian Embassy was happy to bring the Roerich exhibition to a place where the family had spent some of their best years.Nicholas Roerich and his family had reached Darjeeling in 1923. He lived here for the next five years and painted a series of internationally acclaimed works, among them the “Banners of the East” series (1924) and the world-famous masterpiece, “Kunchanjunga” (1924).

Along with the Roerich prints, the Russians have also put up an exhibition by two Russian photographers, Mr Eugene Zozulya and Mr Gleb Zinovyev. Photographs taken in Russia and India have been displayed in a manner that they complement each other, either through similarities or by contrast. The photo exhibition is entitled “Unity in Diversity.”The exhibitions will continue till 14 November.

Source> The Statesman

Political turmoil over closed tea estate

The tussle among CPM leaders here over the present situation in Raipur Tea Estate came to the fore today.

At a news meet today, Jiten Das, the former MP of Jalpaiguri and secretary of the Jalpaiguri sadar zonal committee of the party, contradicted Minati Sen’s claim that residents of the estate — out of operation since July 5 — have been starving and suffering from malaria. Sen is the sitting CPM MP of Jalpaiguri.

“There is scarcity of food in the closed estate and residents are suffering from malnutrition. I have decided to ask the administration to ensure better implementation of the Sampurna Gramin Rozgar Yojana (SGRY), the food-for-work scheme,” Sen said.

“It is incorrect to say that there is starvation in the garden,” Das refuted. “The gram panchayat and panchayat samiti concerned have implemented the SGRY in the tea estate since September, 2003 — even when the garden was open. Funds and foodgrain have been distributed regularly under the scheme.”

The CPM zonal secretary presented a detail on the disbursement of funds and foodgrain. According to him, the Patkata village panchayat, under which the garden falls, disbursed Rs 1,64,424 under the SGRY scheme till January 15, 2004. After taking over the scheme from Patkata panchayat, the sadar panchayat samiti has so far disbursed Rs 6,34,127 and 2,206.75 quintals of rice among residents of the estate.

However, when the garden closed operation on July 5 this year, the administration declared that it would launch the same scheme in the garden in September.

The dispute did not end there.

“We are aware that the MP had been to the garden. But she should have first informed the local representatives and talked to them during the visit. Then only she would have got the real picture of the garden,” Das added.

“I am not a fool to inform everybody about my visit,” said Sen. “I paid a surprise visit to the estate and found residents suffering from malaria. I am planning to distribute mosquito nets to them.”

Sabhapati of sadar panchayat samiti Binod Toppo, Patkata gram panchayat pradhan Anita Minz and CPM member of the gram panchayat of the garden Jaba Marandi were all present at the meet but they chose to remain tight-lipped. “A food-for-work scheme is now on in the garden,” was all that Marandi offered after the conference.

Source> The Telegraph

Darjeeling Tea Association proposes amendments to the Tea Act

The Darjeeling Tea Association has proposed amendments to the Tea Act, to penalise violators of the newly instituted law, Geographic Indicator of Good Registration and Protection Act 1999, at the production end.

Darjeeling tea was the first product to be notified last year under the law, which is also known as the GI (Georaphical Indicator). It meant that only tea grown in the geographical area of Darjeeling could call itself Darjeeling tea. It was primarily aimed at stopping nearly 30 million kg of non-Darjeeling tea being sold from the “Darjeeling platform” in the world market.

While the GI has begun to have a positive impact on the world market, it has not been entirely effective in stopping the few unscrupulous tea gardens in the region from mixing their tea with green leaves procured from Nepal and Terai. Although few gardens indulge in this nefarious practice, it has become important to stop them because it undermines the GI, whose final goal is to guarantee quality to buyers.

Tea officials said the Darjeeling Tea Association has already given a proposal to the Tea Board which in turn has agreed to draft the amendments to the Tea Act. “The GI is not stringent enough on the production side, and therefore it is seen that the practice of mixing outside tea has not been given up by the offenders. It has become imperative to amend the Tea Act by which the violators can be seriously penalized,” an official said.

It may be pointed out that when the Darjeeling Tea Association last year announced the notification of Darjeeling tea under GI, they had declared that those producers guilty of mixing tea can be imprisoned for a period of up to three years along with a fine of up to Rs 25 lakh. Importantly, the defaulting garden would also be “denotified,” ceasing to exist as a producer of Darjeeling tea.

Apparently, the penal measures have been difficult to implement as notification of gardens fall under the purview of the Tea Act.

Source> The Stateman

Pathetic condition of tea laborers in Ramjhora Tea Estate

Labourers of the out-of-operation Ramjhora Tea Estate, most of whom are suffering from malnutrition and enteric diseases, have termed the government relief they get as “meagre” and “irregular”.

Today a team from Right to Food and Work - West Bengal Network, working for adviser to Supreme Court Anuradha alwar was snubbed by the labourers during a visit to the garden. “We are not interested about knowing our rights, but want the garden to be reopened soon,” shouted one worker. “We can no longer bear the poverty and do not wish to live on government relief, which is meagre and irregular.”

The garden, which used to employ 1,103 permanent workers and around 2,000 temporary workers, closed operation on August 10, 2002.

Since then, enteric diseases and malnutrition have wreaked havoc at the estate. Yesterday, 35-year-old Robin Roy, a resident of Gudam labour line, succumbed to gastro-enteritis. Labourers say four persons have died of the disease in the estate in the past one week.

The administration has introduced various relief schemes at the garden, but labourers say the projects have not made any significant change in their lives. “There are huge loopholes in the implementation of the schemes,” said Kaleshwar Meher, a labourer and resident of the estate. “Last month, we got only five days’ work under Gramin Rozgar Yojna and not a single work-day this month. The rice and wheat supplied through Antodaya Annapurna Yojna is of such poor quality that it cannot be consumed.”

Some labourers said even the ration supplied against their BPL ration cards is irregular. “Instead of opening the shop for five-and-a-half days every week, they open it twice. We do not have enough money to pick up our allotments in bulk,” said Ganesh Bansfore. Fishing out their BPL card, the workers pointed out that the last entry was in mid-September.

Scarcity of drinking water too is a problem at the garden, said Congress panchayat member of the area Birsa Oraon.

Source> The Telegraph