Garden Owners shutting Gardens at will

The CPI-ML has called a bandh in North Bengal tomorrow. The CPI-ML (Liberation) has supported the bandh, which has been convened to protest against the alleged apathy of the state government to bring errant tea plantation owners to heel and ensure the reopening of the abandoned or closed tea estates of the region.

“The state government has adopted a wait and watch policy while tea workers languish from hunger and uncertainty.

Caring two hoots about the workers’ conditions a section of plantation owners are locking out or abandoning the plantations at will and the state government stands a mute spectator. We condemn such inaction,” CPI-ML general secretary Mr Kanu Sanyal said.

Demanding “immediate arrest,” of the plantation management and owners who have closed down the plantations Mr Sanyal further alleged: “Not just the matter of closed plantations. Plantation owners are faltering in ration, wage payments and depriving workers of their Provident Fund, gratuity and other dues. If the state government does not wake up to the situation and take effective steps, they might have a mass upsurge to contend with.”

Incidentally, 18 tea plantations are closed in the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars. Several round of meetings by the labour department including labour minister Mr Mohammad Amin has had no result on the issue.

Source > The Statesman

Tea Garden owners - The real culprits

Administrative officials and members of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) have come down heavily on planters, who have shut down their estates during the lean season to avoid labour costs.

At the annual general meeting of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA) organised in Binnaguri yesterday, government and ITA officials accused a section of planters of being indifferent to the condition of the tea sector. “They are the black sheep of the industry. They have tainted the image of the planters’ community. It is unethical to close down estates for the three-month-long lean season,” alleged K.S. David, chairman of the ITA’s Bengal committee.

According to David, when planters in other tea producing countries like South Africa and Kenya are moving towards diversification, a group of planters prefer to remain non-receptive to new initiatives. “Merely selling tea will not improve the economic condition of the industry. Ancillary activities (like tea tourism) are essential for garnering revenue,” David added.

Administrative officials, who spoke after David, also stuck to the aggressive stance.

“It is strange, and certainly not feasible, that the government has to take up the responsibility of the people despite the fact that the fault is somebody else’s. This is not acceptable,” said A. Subbiah, the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri.

According to Subbiah, expenditures incurred in initiating schemes for closed estates were often questioned by the office of the comptroller and auditor-general. “They seek explanations from us as to why we spent such large amounts on these garden instead of other backward pockets,” he said.

Elaborating on the development schemes that the administration has taken up for the tea industry, Subbiah said: “We would like to remind this section of planters that nobody is above the law. They should open their units by February 15 or else we will take appropriate measures.”

Ashok Mohan Chakrobarty, principal secretary of the labour department, rebuked garden owners for delivering the wrong message to the society. “Since October last year, seven gardens have closed down and none of the owners of these estates have participated in the meetings. This is not acceptable,” Chakrobarty said.

Source > The Telegraph

Starving Tea estate workers

Workers of tea estates in the district are still suffering from starvation.

This was confirmed by a survey that the West Bengal Agricultural Workers’ Association (WBAWA) conducted on 120 families in six tea estates here. The recce was carried out in collaboration with International Union of Foodworkers and American Jewish World Service Workers.

“We have found that even now, residents of estates are starving, and the results were confirmed by the standard laid down by World Health Organisation (WHO),” said Swapan Ganguly of the WBAWA.

According to WHO, if the Body Mass Index of a person — his weight divided by the square of his height — is less than 16, then he is considered to be “at high risk of mortality from starvation”. If a population has more than 40 per cent of its adults with a BMI less than 18.5, then it will be called a “starving community”, the WHO guideline stated.

According to the survey, the estates can very well be called a “starving community” since 41.2 per cent of the adult members there has BMI less than 18.5. “We have also found that the BMI of 5.1 per cent of the adults is less than 16. Though the condition at the closed estates is particularly bad, that of the open estates is no better,” Ganguly said.

The team also found that malnutrition has caused different ailments like gastroenteritis, measles and malaria due to which 46 people have died over the past three years.

Officials of the district administration, however, said they were trying their best for betterment of the workers. “Several food-for-work schemes have been implemented in the gardens and mid-day meals have also been started in schools,” said A. Subbiah, district magistrate of Jalpaiguri.

Source > The Telegraph

Tea owners not keen on opening close tea gardens

The state government’s ultimatum last week, asking the owners of closed tea gardens to reopen their estates within 15 days, is likely to go unheeded.

M. Das Gupta, the secretary-general of the Indian Tea Association, said it was impossible to open the gardens in such a slapdash manner. He was talking to reporters after the 44th annual general meeting of the Terai Branch of the Indian Tea Association (TBITA) here today.

On January 20, state labour welfare minister Md Amin held a meeting with representatives of closed estate owners and trade union leaders, where he directed the planters to reopen their gardens within 15 days. “He (Amin) might have said such a thing, owing to some kind of pressure,” Das Gupta said. “But we had already said it was not possible to reopen the gardens unless the government considered certain difficulties the estates were facing.”

“For gardens, which have been closed owing to scarcity of funds, we have asked the government to have a separate meeting with the owners, banks and financial institutions. Banks have an important role to play here,” he added.

P.K. Lahiri, the Tea Board secretary, said the government was working on creating a Rs 4,700-crore special purpose tea fund, which will help owners uproot and replant bushes. The estates will get 15 years to utilise the funds. “The gardens must take immediate steps to improve the quality of tea, for which the bushes should be replanted,” he said. Das Gupta seemed glad that the government was ready to help the industry.

According to P.S. Jhala, the TBITA chairman, the government must devise schemes so that the tea industry diversifies into other commercial crops like spices and medicinal plants.

Source > The Telegraph

State Labour Department's hold on the slip

The state labour department, and more importantly, the labour minister’s grip on labour-related matters, is slipping.

On 20 January, Mohammad Amin convened a meeting here with the management of locked-out or abandoned tea estates of the region. The objective was to discuss reasons behind the closures and to arrive at possible solutions to reopen the plantations. Of the 18 such plantations, representatives of just two attended the meeting.

The minister and his department chose to avoid any action, which earned wide criticism from the workers’ representatives.

Pursuant to the meeting, the labour department convened a meeting with one of the abandoned tea estates, Shikarpur in the Dooars at Jalpaiguri yesterday but the concerned plantation’s management or its representatives abstained from it.

Exhibiting patience, the labour department has convened a second meeting with the Shikarpur management at Siliguri on 30 January. But department officials are unsure whether to take a soft or hard stance if the plantation’s management fails to turn up for a second time.
The inaction is helping to make workers and workers’ unions jittery.
It is also drawing criticism from pro-Left platforms like All India Trade Union Congress and Citu, as has been evident from recent remarks of their leadership.

According to the labour department’s figures, 18 tea estates remain either locked out or abandoned in the Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling hills. They are Jogmaya, Sepoydhura, Peshak, Potong and Chungtung in the Darjeeling hills; Pahargoomiah and New Chumta in the Terai and Kathalguri, Ramjhora, Chamurchi, Raipur, Srinathpur, Bamandanga Tondu, Samsing, Mujnai, Chinchula, Bharnobari and Mal Nuddy in the Dooars.

In addition to these, the Shikarpur riddle has stumped the labour department. While one concern owns the plantation, another runs the management or so was the case recently.
“We have summoned the original owner for discussion on 30 January. We are not officially aware if another concern is running the plantation’s management,” DLC Mr D Rasailey said.

The labour department also has to sort out a unique problem dogging Jogmaya Tea Estate in the Darjeeling hills. The plantation closed down on 15 September 2003 and has been running through a receiver appointed by the state government ever since.

The Jogmaya management has expressed interest in reopening the plantation, which was conveyed to Mr Amin on the 20 January meeting and the minister in turn asked the Darjeeling district magistrate to look into the matter.

“The matter is rather complicated. But it is being looked into,” Darjeeling DM Mr Ariz Aftab said.

Source > The Statesman

Leopard Attack on Tea workers

In another of those incidents of man-animal conflict, a leopard mauled three workers of the Aibheel Tea Estate in the Dooars and itself got killed in the bargain. The incident took place last week and has sent an alarm throughout the industry, particularly in the remotely located plantations.

Leopards and elephants often wander into tea plantations for physiological reasons or to breed. According to industry officials, the leopard in this particular instance had taken refuge in a stretch of tall grass that had been planted to revitalise soil conditions after uprooting tea bushes. The practice is a normal and routine exercise in tea plantations.

“Unless the forest department makes arrangements to ensure that animals did not stray out of the forests, there is no way the industry can solve such a problem. Tea workers fall prey to such leopard attacks almost every year,” tea officials lamented.

Source > The Statesman

A Close watch on the conditions of closed tea garden workers

A Calcutta-based rights group, Right to Food and Work, West Bengal Network, has decided to keep a closer watch on the condition of workers in closed and abandoned tea gardens of the region.

The group has proposed the formation of a joint monitoring committee, involving labourers and trade union leaders, to keep track of the situation in the gardens. The proposal came up at a two-day workshop-cum-seminar organised by Uttaran, a workers’ rights facilitation centre run by the group. The seminar ended here today.

“We insisted on forming a body which will look into the various problems of these workers and spread awareness among them on their rights,” said Swapan Ganguly, who works for the group. “The International Union of Food (IUF) has already extended their support to us in this regard.”

The IUF was represented in the meet by Sue Long Lay, a coordinator of the organisation. Lay, who works in the beverage sector — mainly tea and coffee — in Latin America and Europe, had attended the first day of the workshop yesterday.

Leaders of Citu, Intuc and other trade unions were present at the meet, which was also attended by representatives of workers serving in seven tea estates — Kanthalguri, Raipur, Ramjhora, Sikarpur, Chinchula, Bharnabari and Mujnai.

Those present were briefed, among other issues, on the National Rural Employment Guaranty Act that will be implemented soon.

Ganguly said the group was planning to file a suit in the Supreme Court against the mounting provident fund dues in the gardens.

“We have conducted surveys in 18 tea estates and have found that the total amount due as provident fund in these gardens alone is around Rs 37 crore, which comes to around Rs 21,000 per worker,” Ganguly said. “The IUF has already written an open letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in this regard and we have plans to file a suit shortly. We have invited the trade unions to be a party to the case.”

There are plans to conduct another survey to examine the various ways in which closed gardens can be revived.

Source > The Telegraph

Public Outcry against Planter's Construction plan

The decision to convert the open space on the Planter’s Club premises into a concrete structure has resulted in a public outcry against the move.

The committee members of the club have decided to construct a parking space on the vacant plot of land right in front of Planter’s and plans are afoot to “properly” utilise the area beneath the car park.

Prahlad Roka, managing director of Kanchenjunga Adventures, said: “The decision to come up with a parking lot and probably a shopping mall goes against what the club stands for. We do not need to commercialise everything. This is the only green space in town and with such structures coming up, Darjeeling will no longer remain the coveted tourist destination that it now is.”

The decision seems to have hurt the sentiments of the town with many like Roka alleging that “those who have given the approval for the construction are either not from Darjeeling or do not feel for the place”.

“Landmarks like Planter’s do not belong to the club members alone, the community also has a right to the building that boasts of so many legacies,” said an architect here. “They should concentrate on managing the place well, rather than put shops on sale.”

Rajeshwar Singh, a committee member of Planter’s, however, said the club was fully sensitive to people’s sentiments. “All efforts will be made to preserve the club… We plan to use the space beneath the parking lot and the options are still open. It is not that only shopping malls will come up, there were also suggestions to set up a tea museum.”

But many like Mahindra Pradhan, a government employee, maintained that “concrete constructions” should not be allowed to engulf the only green space of the town.

The club members argue that the parking space will ease traffic flow to Planter’s Nursing Home. They added that the present car park can only accommodate five to six vehicles.

Residents, however, refused to buy Planter’s claim. Bharat Prakash Rai, the secretary of Federation of Societies for Environment Protection, said: “It is better to keep the place free of vehicles, even if it is for the sake of the hospital. We do not agree to any concrete construction coming up in that area.”

Some people feel that the new structure will block the view of the Kanchenjunga from Planter’s.

Source > The Telegraph

15 Days Deadline to Reopen Closed Tea Gardens

A three-hour meeting of state labour minister Md Amin with tea garden owners and workers at the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority office today ended with another ultimatum to planters to reopen their closed estates.

“It has been resolved that five to six closed estates will reopen soon and we have granted 15 days’ time to the rest,” Amin said. “All closed gardens, no matter what the reason of their closure is, must unconditionally reopen.” He even said the trade unions must launch an agitation if the owners refuse to obey the order and added that the government will support them.

Incidentally, barring only two directors of gardens, all other owners stayed away from the meeting.

Source > The Telegraph

Proposal for Plaza in front of Planter's Club

Planter’s Club — probably the only remaining testimony to the hill town’s rich legacy — is ready to exchange its green for a concrete structure.

The members of Darjeeling Club — more popularly called Planter’s Club — may have put up billboards describing the landmark as a “heritage” site, but they have no qualms in turning the coveted hillside into a multi-storied shopping complex-cum-parking space.

A proposal to erect a parking space — which could also house a two-storied shopping complex — right in front of Planter’s was passed at a meeting called by its committee members recently.

Undoubtedly, the location is a coveted spot for promoters of real estate. Vijay Puri, a club member, who chaired the meeting on December 24, admitted that the proposal was passed. “The majority of the members has given the nod for the creation of a parking space,” he said.

Sources maintain that a few enthusiastic members had even wanted to use the space below the parking area for commercial purposes (read shopping malls).

Though Planter’s has 476 members (from across the country), the “historic” meeting was attended by 30-odd people. The club, which was set up in 1868, has one of few surviving open spaces in Darjeeling. It is feared that the parking space — to come up in front of the club’s entrance from the left — will turn the “heritage landmark” into a concrete jungle.

Those members, who were in favour of a parking space, argued that it would be in the best interests of the club. The motor stand, incidentally, is only 20 m away. “Prior to 1986, the club members used that space to park their vehicles but no longer,” said a member.

The Planter’s has an unmatched history. The lounge has original Snaffles painting dating back to the early 20th century while the billiard room boasts of photographs of the historic Everest expedition led by Andrew “Sandy” Irvine and George Mallory in 1924. Two oxygen cylinders at the entrance are a testimony to the fact that the expedition had started from here.

The Quarter Deck (the jutting out balcony) boasts of a Gatling Gun—dating back to World War I—gifted by Col Younghusband who had used it while leading the first British expedition to Tibet.

Residents fear that “brazen encroachment by club members” is set to rob Planter’s of its legacies.

Source > The Telegraph

Peshok Tea Estate to Re-open soon

The Peshok Tea Estate was closed for a decade due to abandoning of the estate by the management. Now the tea laborers can lighten their hearts because the tea estate has been handed over to a new owner and will be resuming its work soon.

The garden, located 22 km from here, will be taken over by the management of the Dooteray and Kaley Valley tea estates. “The company has already paid an advance of about Rs 90 lakh and the garden is expected to start functioning by February 1,” a source said.

The garden’s earlier owner, the government-run Tea Trading Corporation of India (TTCI), had abandoned it in 1995. The new development follows the high court’s decision to liquidate all three TTCI-held gardens in the Darjeeling hills. Of the three, Vah Tukvar has already been taken over by Saycotta Tea Company Ltd and Putung is expected to have a new owner soon.

The new management at Peshok is expected to take over the garden without any liabilities, with the high court saying it will decide on the settlement of any previous dues. However, almost 50 percent of the tea bushes are reportedly in a very bad shape. The garden factory is also not functioning and initially green leaves are expected to be rolled in another garden.

The approximate plantation area at Peshok is 350 hectares and the total green leaf production is expected to be 4 lakh kg annually.

But the new management is unlikely to recruit all the 950 labourers who were working in the garden at the time of its closure. “Many of the workers have retired or left. It would not be viable to recruit all of them,” the source said.

Even the government, which was paying a monthly stipend of Rs 500 to the workers during the closed period, had refused to give the money to any family members in case a worker died. Thus surviving members will not have much claim to the job of deceased labourers, though a badli system (in which a labourer’s job is given to the next of kin on retirement) is in place in certain gardens.

Source > The Telegraph

Joint Movement to press for Tea Workers Rights

AITUC — the trade wing of the CPI — has decided to launch a joint movement of the workers of the tea and jute plantations to press for their rights.

“From January 26, a two-day convention of Federation of Chatkal Union will be held at Baranagar,” said Debashis Dutta, the Aituc state president. “At the convention, we will decide on how to integrate the struggle of the tea workers and jute farmers and launch a joint agitation to the best interests of workers from both the sectors.”

Dutta was speaking at a news conference called to sum up the trade union’s 23rd state conference. The three-day meet ended here yesterday.

Both Ranajit Guha, the Aituc secretary, and Dutta came down heavily on the government and criticised the state machinery for not doing enough for plantation workers (tea workers in the case of north Bengal).

Both the leaders said they have taken care to include these observations on the government’s role in the union’s secretariat report prepared at the end of the conference and they will take them up with the government in the days to come.

“The labour department, which is actually supposed to look after the welfare of the workers, has always chosen to look the other way, even as the tea management went ahead with their suppression of workers’ rights,” Dutta alleged. “There has been massive exploitation of the workers in the hands of the owners, but the labour department and the government has chosen to ignore it, making the scenario worse.”

Guha and Dutta said the trade union will launch an agitation to create pressure on the labour department to do its job.

In all, 605 delegates from 269 unions took part in the conference held at Baghajatin Park here. Aituc general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta also addressed the meet, stressing on the need for the workers to unite to face “the onslaught of the employers in future”.

Source > The Telegraph

Closed Tea Garden to Reopen

Yet another closed garden in the hills is set to reopen this month, with Putung tea garden near Mirik being handed over to a private firm over this weekend.

Vah-Takvar, a garden near here, reopened on 2 January, 10 years after remaining closed. Both Putung and Vah-Takvar (which has been rechristened Sri Dwarika tea estate by its new owners) were in the custody of the Tea Trading Corporation of India, following the original owners’ failure to run them.

The TTCI, a floundering Central institution, has also been unable to run them. Putung tea estate has been handed over to United Naturex Dotcom Pvt Ltd – a curiously named firm for the tea industry. Mr JP Gurung, the local consultant for Putung’s new owners, declined to answer questions regarding antecedents of the “Dotcom.” “I am not authorised to answer the media,” he said, amidst speculations in the industry that the new company was a front for Tea Promoters India, which already owns several Darjeeling gardens.

Mr Gurung conceded that the garden would reopen “shortly.” Putung was taken over by the TTCI in 1985, when it had a workforce of 230 and a population of 1050. The last remaining closed TTCI garden in Darjeeling is also set to resume operations this month. Peshok has been handed over to Dootheria and Kalej Valley Tea Co. An official of the company today said: “The details of the workforce has to be sorted out before starting operations later this month.” Meantime, unions of Chong Tong tea estate, virtually “abandoned” by the management, last Friday, today refused to come to a meeting called by the management. The latter has been asking for six days of work with three days of payment.

Mr LM Lama, panchayat pradhan, Chong Tong gram panchayat, said: “The workers are willing to listen to the problems, provided the owner, Mr Ajit Agarwal talked to them.” Mr Lama also warned that the workers would set up a roadblock on NH-55 if the authorities did not intervene.

Source > The Statesman

Tea Plantation Owners owe 35 crore to Tea Workers

The regional provident fund (PF) office here has decided to soon start collecting the pending provident funds of workers from a number tea estates in north Bengal.

Even after several reminders, around 40 tea estates in the Dooars, Terai and Darjeeling have reportedly failed to pay provident funds to their workers that have been due to them for years.

According to a PF source, a team of officials, including inspectors of the department, will soon head for Calcutta, where most of the tea companies (owners of particular tea gardens) are located. “We have our list ready. With the help of our staff in Calcutta, we will visit the houses of the defaulting planters. We will ask them to pay immediately or else face arrest,” he said.

Last month, PF officials served a notice on the planters concerned, asking them to pay the arrears — amounting to around Rs 35 crore — by January 15. The officials had stated that if the planters failed to pay by the ascribed date, legal action would be taken against them.

According to S. Bhattacharya, the regional provident fund commissioner of Jalpaiguri, the department had been able to collect only around Rs 25 crore before setting the deadline but the planters still owe around Rs 35 crore to the workers.

Provident fund officers have already registered 30 FIRs at different police stations in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts, where the estates are located, the source said. Over 120 cases are also lying pending in the respective district courts, he added.

While the union leaders at the tea estates welcomed the measure taken by the PF officials, the planters found it “ominous for the industry”.

“The officials might arrest the chairmen and managing directors of tea companies, but we do not think that will help them realise the pending dues, especially since this is the non-productive season,” said Prabir Bhattacharya, the secretary of Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association. “The best way, we feel, is to persuade the planters into paying the amount. The drive taken by the PF office will only accelerate the closure of a few more gardens.”

Trade union leaders, however, are pleased with the step. “We welcome the decision of the PF office,” said Chitta Dey, convener of Defence Committee of Tea Plantation

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Research Association to develop Tea biscuits

And now munch your tea! Yes, do away with your cups and saucers for tea would henceforth be available in biscuits. The development is only a patent-right away. Once patented, the Tea Research Association would direct all its energy to develop biscuits laced with ingredients of tea.
And what is more, consumers would enjoy the luxury of choosing tea-biscuits off the racks according to their taste and requirement.

Wish to savour tea and biscuits minus the polyphenols? No problem, just buy a pack of tea biscuits suitably laced with your preferred aroma sans the polyphenols and enjoy your tea and biscuit in one munch.

You want it the other way round? “That can be arranged too,” claim TRA officials.

Using a high-pressure technology, the TRA has succeeded in segregating the components of tea. “Tea has plenty of bio-chemical components in small doses. But the main components are the polyphenols, which is incorrectly often referred to as tannin. The TRA has accomplished the art of segregating all these components after a thorough research,” said the TRA’s chief advisor, Nagrakata station Mr Pradip Ghosh.

According to him, the idea of tea-biscuits was presented at the TRA’s 34th conference at Toklai, Assam between 28 and 30 November. “Tea laced biscuits were tasted at the conference and passed muster. It has been decided that the experiment would be pursued on a commercial basis and the segregated tea ingredients released in the market in their aboriginal forms,” he informed.

The TRA, he added, would not manufacture the tea-laced biscuits but would retain the patent right of extracting the tea components.

It was learnt that some large size biscuit manufacturers have already got wind of the development and more than one are toying with the idea to become the first to introduce the new product in the market.

Slip between the ‘cup’ and the lip or the ‘pack’ and the lip? Decide for yourself.

Source > The Statesman

Closed tea garden worker arrested by Police

A worker of a closed tea garden in Jalpaiguri was arrested last night by Siliguri police on the charge of dacoity. Three of his associates were also held.

The incident is being seen as an indication of the worsening situation in north Bengal’s tea sector.

Acting on a tip-off, the police picked up Ramesh Oraon (28) of Raipur Tea Estate (closed since July last year) under Kotwali police station in the Jalpaiguri district, along with three others from a hideout in Khalpara. Two improvised firearms and four rounds of ammunition were seized from them.

The other three who have been arrested are Sukumar Das (25) from Jyotinagar Colony under Siliguri police station and Abhi Munia (26) and Jairam Das (20), both from Randhamali in the Jalpaiguri district. All four were forwarded to the court today.

“They have confessed that they were planning to raid a series of houses in the area,” said Siliguri additional superintendent of police Tripurari.

“They do not have any criminal records in Siliguri. We will contact our counterparts in Jalpaiguri to know about their past. What we have been able to confirm is that Sukumar had asked the three to come to Siliguri so that they could form a gang.”

The arrest of the worker of a closed tea garden signals a frightening trend in north Bengal, feel trade union leaders. “We had always feared that the management’s unmindful and harsh measures coupled with the government’s absolute apathy would drive workers of closed gardens to adopt criminal means for a living,” said Samir Roy, general secretary of West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha.

Roy added that desperate workers might even get involved in anti-national activity. “With so many separatist movements active in north Bengal, it will not be difficult to instigate the workers, who are dying of hunger and malnutrition,”.

Source > The Telegraph

429 tea laborers sacked by Management

Tension gripped the Dalsinghpara tea garden in the Kalchini police station area today when around 400 permanent workers confined deputy manager Mridul Majumdar to his office throughout the day to protest against the management’s decision to lay them off.

On December 8, the management issued a notice sacking 429 workers for remaining absent from work. But on January 6, the issue was resolved after the management and the trade union leaders of Citu, Intuc and the UTUC met at the office of Dooars Branch Indian Tea Association (DBITA). It was decided there that all the “sacked” workers would get their jobs back after replying to the notice. An agreement was also reached regarding those who had been working despite being sacked: it was decided that they too would be allowed to re-join, claimed Intuc leader Provat Mukherjee.

“However, the management now, in blatant violation of the pact, is trying to shut down the garden citing lawlessness,” Mukherjee alleged. The 429 workers were not allowed to join their duties today. “The process of terminating the services has been illegal,” Mukherjee claimed.

Majumdar said the notice was issued following instructions from the head office in Calcutta. “We have 2,300 workers in the garden. Those who had been absent from work for prolonged periods were served the notice, after a decision was reached at a higher level,” he said.

Deputy secretary of the DBITA Pranjal Neogy said despite making losses, the management of Dalsinghpara tea garden was trying to keep things running. “But if the tension escalates, there will be no other alternative but to shut down and leave,” he said.

Soumitra Mohan, subdivisional officer, Alipurduar, said: “The administration has instructed the garden management not to shut down without informing district officials. If they do, we can issue non-bailable warrants against them.” he said.

Mukherjee alleged that the Dalsinghpara management had not stopped at sacking. “They have proposed to reduce wages from Rs 48.40 a day to Rs 30 and to pay three days’ wages even after labourers work for a six-day stretch.”

Source > The Telegraph

Tea Funds for education misappropriated by Manangement

Former minister and RSP leader Manohar Tirkey has accused Bharnabari Tea and Industries of misappropriating funds sent by the Tea Board for the education of the children residing in its garden.

The estate has been shut since December 29, 2005.

Tirkey, who is also the secretary of Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, claimed that in September 2005, the Tea Board had sent Rs 81,703 to the management for the education of 44 students of the garden belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Tribe categories. “But the money was not distributed among the students,” Tirkey said.

“The money was sent through two demand drafts, the numbers of which are in my possession,” Tirkey claimed. He added that his inquiries had revealed that the management had withdrawn the amount from the State Bank of India’s Hashimara branch on September 4, 2005. “I have complained in writing to the state labour commissioner in Calcutta,” Tirkey claimed.

“I had approached the garden manager several times to get the funds allotted for my children but returned empty handed,” said Paltu Kaitha, a worker at the garden whose three children study at St Francis School, Satali.

Alipurduar subdivisional officer Soumitra Mohan said he would take necessary action as soon as he got a written complaint.

Source > The Telegraph