Uncertainty looms over two Tea Gardens

Uncertainty looms large over the Raipur and Shikarpur tea gardens in Jalpaiguri district. The two gardens had long been abandoned. Sporadic attempts to run the two estates that employ about 2,230 workers have so far failed. And now, the operating workers’ unions want the lease of both plantations cancelled.

Abandoned since October 2003, the Raipur Tea Estate reopened in April 2005 but was abandoned again before the pujas. The tea estate has suffered cases at the Debt Recovery Tribunal and the Calcutta High Court. There is confusion over ownership and the management of the plantation and currently the plantation is functioning under an operational management committee under the auspices of the Jalpaiguri district administration.

“There are four claimants to Raipur tea garden’s ownership. Moreover, we are uncertain if the pending litigations against the plantation are all settled or not. Under the given circumstances if the district administration does not succeed in restoring the plantation to functional stage we want the plantation’s lease scrapped,” said Mr Kalyan Roy of the West Bengal Cha Sramik Union.

It was learnt that the Jalpaiguri district administration has convened a meeting on 24 March over Raipur Tea Estate. “If the confusion over the plantation’s ownership persists even after that and the workers’ fate continue to remain uncertain, we shall have no alternative but to launch an agitation against the state government,” the union leader threatened.

According to him, the state government’s “lenient attitude towards errant plantation owners and management,” has allowed a section to take advantage of the situation at the cost of the workers’ future. The situation is even worse at the adjacent Shikarpur Tea Estate. The plantation, which has about 1,600 workers has changed hands a number of times including a short stint of two months when a Kolkata-based firm took over the reins of the plantation’s management (not ownership) in the fag end of last year.

The move to restore the deadlock however failed. Industry officials are aware of the conditions but expressed helplessness. “The Raipur and Shikarpur tea estates are suffering from ownership and management problems. Although both plantations are our members, we are in no position to help since our organisation does not have any say about ownership or management of individual plantations,” said Mr NK Basu, principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

Source > The Statesman