Darjeeling: Work is set to resume at the Orange Valley tea garden after the labourers finally allowed police to shift the body of Sukbir Rai, a worker who committed suicide on Wednesday.

“The body was recovered around 12.30 am last night,” said A.R. Dewan, the secretary of the GNLF’s Darjeeling branch committee.

Following a post-mortem, the garden authorities performed the last rites. The labourers then held a condolence meeting today, after which no work was conducted.

According to the labourers, Rai, who was a dafadar or a supervisor at the garden, had committed suicide after being “insulted” by Nipen Sharma, the assistant manager. He killed himself by jumping 300 ft into a jhora near the estate, 15 km from here. After recovering the body, the workers had decided not to give it up till the management came down to the spot and “see (for themselves) the fate of their oppression”.

Now that the labourers have reportedly agreed to an amicable solution, the managers are expected to return to the estate soon. “I have asked my people to resume work from tomorrow,” said manager Rajesh Kaushal.

Following a complaint lodged by Kaushal, the police have started a case against a few unidentified persons under Sections 143 of the IPC (unlawful assembling), 223 (assault) and 342 (wrongful confinement), said L.B. Kumai, the deputy superintendent of police (town). “We have also started two cases under Sections 34 and 306 of the IPC against assistant managers Nipen Sharma and Jhawar Singh Chowdhury,” Kumai said. “Amit Rai, a resident of the estate, alleged that Rai had committed suicide after humiliation by them.”

Source: The Telegraph

Tea trade unions to launch movement

Siliguri: Trade union leaders under the banner of Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers today said they would soon launch a movement to demand an immediate solution to a host of problems faced by workers in the industry.

The committee, which is an umbrella organisation of 17 trade union bodies including those backed by the Intuc and Citu, called a news conference here today and provided reporters with a blue-print of their agitation programme.

“We will begin by holding two simultaneous conventions at Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar on May 24. These will be followed by conventions at different locations of the Terai, the Dooars and the Darjeeling hills including Naxalbari, Matigara, Chulsa, Birpara and Kurseong in the next two months,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the committee. “A central convention will be held at Baghajatin Park here on June 28.”

The leaders also reiterated that if nothing comes of these programmes, they would consider calling a strike throughout the industry.

“The lackadaisical attitude of the state, Centre and the planters in addressing several key issues has worsened the plight of the three lakh workers and their dependants. This has left us with no alternative but to launch a movement across the industry again,” one of the committee members said.

They also referred to the 16-day strike that had shut down gardens across the Dooars in 2005 and forced planters to sign a revised wage agreement for garden labourers.

“We are not banking on conventions alone. Instead, we are considering these as the first phase of the movement,” said Kalyan Roy, general secretary of West Bengal Cha Sramik Union. “We are very clear about our objectives and if there is no positive outcome by June-end, we may go in for an indefinite strike in July.”

Aloke Chakravorty, the joint general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, and Murari Mitra, a member of the Citu’s state committee, both confirmed the participation of their supporters in the programme.

Source: The Telegraph

Kartika tea estate to reopen

Siliguri: The Kartika tea estate, which has been closed since April 17, will reopen tomorrow.

“During a tripartite meeting held at the office of the deputy labour commissioner (DLC) in Jalpaiguri today, the management agreed to resume work at the garden from tomorrow. They have also promised to distribute a portion of pending wages and ration among the workers,” said DLC Kallol Dutta after the meeting. “The other grievances would be redressed at subsequent bipartite meetings.”

On April 16, workers of the garden reportedly gheraoed the manager, Bapan Bhowal, and assaulted him, demanding that their dues be cleared. The following day, the management declared a lock-out at the garden, which employs 902 permanent workers

“At the meeting, both sides condemned the incident and agreed that proper action should be taken against those responsible for the attack,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.

As workers of Kartika get ready for work tomorrow, the future of 2,100 labourers of Beech tea estate in Kalchini is still undecided as the third tripartite meeting held in Siliguri today fell through.

Sources said at the meeting held at the joint labour commissioner’s office, the management and trade unions were at loggerheads as the former insisted on downsizing the workforce by 400.

The estate closed down on April 12, when the management left the garden citing “lawlessness and labour unrest”.

“We have again called a meeting on May 2,” said Mohammad Nasim, the joint labour commissioner.

Talwar visit

Anuradha Talwar visited Mujnai tea garden in the Madarihat police station area for an inspection today.

The workers told the state adviser to the food commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court that though the garden was not closed, it was in a pathetic state. Instead of the stipulated Rs 700 per month, they were getting 12 days’ work and being paid Rs 240, the workers alleged.

Talwar met gram panchayat member Bharat Kerkettak and asked him to ensure 100 days’ work for the labourers.

Source: The Telegraph

Orange Valley Tea Estate, Darjeeling: Work came to a standstill here this morning over allegations that a worker had committed suicide after being “tormented” by the management.

Angry workers of Orange Valley Tea Estate refused to allow police to lift the body of Sukbir Rai (57), who jumped 300 ft into a jhora, near the garden (located 15 km from Darjeeling), yesterday. They have vowed not to give up the body till members of the garden management came down to the spot and “see (for themselves) the fate of their oppression”. A large police contingent has been posted at the garden.

Workers said Rai, a dafadar (supervisor) in the garden, was publicly humiliated on April 14. “Nipen Sharma, the assistant manager of the garden, insulted him on that day for not doing his work well. Soon after, he was asked to work as a chowkidar and this was too much for him to bear,” said Solomon Subba, a worker.

It is learnt that Rai was mentally disturbed by the incident and took sick leave on April 21. He reportedly went to his relative’s place at Vah-Tukvar (about 20 km from Darjeeling). It was on his way back, yesterday morning, that Rai went missing. His body was traced around 10 am today.

Following this, angry workers laid siege to the garden factory and allegedly manhandled the in-charge R.R. Chowdhury. The manager of the garden Rajesh Kaushal, who was in Darjeeling, however, refused to go down to the site leading to the impasse.

Kaushal has denied all allegations levelled against the management. “The deceased was made a chowkidar at the request of his family members,” said Kaushal. He hinted that the pressure on Rai could have been for other reasons. “He along with a colleague had hauled up six workers for dereliction of duty. They were later suspended,” he added.

The workers, however, claimed only one of them had been suspended on the basis of Rai’s complaint.

Source: The Telegraph

700 deaths total in closed tea gardens

Siliguri: More than 700 people have died in the 13 closed gardens of the Dooars in the past 14 months.

A copy of a survey revealing the data was handed over today to Anuradha Talwar by the Jalpaiguri administration.

“Conducted by the district health department in 13 closed gardens, the survey says 765 people have died between January 1, 2006 and March 16, 2007,” said Talwar, the state adviser to the food commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court. “Apparently, there is some double counting in the report which needs to be corrected. Nevertheless, the death toll would be somewhere around 700.”

Asked whether most of the deaths were from starvation, Talwar said: “The survey shows that death was due to several diseases. We cannot make any comments unless we analyse the report.”

Bhusan Chakraborty, the chief medical officer of health in Jalpaiguri, while confirming the number of deaths, said something similar. “We have conducted a survey that shows the death of more than 700 people in these gardens. But we are yet to evaluate the report and the causes of death.”

The immediate reasons seem to be gastro-enteritis, cardio-respiratory failure and anaemia, a source said.

Talwar, who is back in the district to conduct a second recce of the closed gardens in north Bengal, visited Raipur Tea Estate, 5 km from the Jalpiguri town, today.

“The workers can no longer live on relief and want the garden to reopen,” she said. “The state, on the other hand, has not found prospective investors, which has aggravated the problem. A proposal to run the garden under a cooperative or an operating management committee has been accepted by the workers.”

A meeting, Talwar said, will be held on May 18 to discuss the issue. She said she would request the trade union leaders to come together to form a committee to run the closed estates.

The adviser to the apex court also said the house-to-house survey initiated by the district administration in the closed tea gardens is on. “Some of the officials informed me that a proposal to conduct a death audit has been conceived,” she said. “Under this, officials would check out the reason behind any death in the estates and other details associated with it.”

Sikarpur and Bhandapur, Chinchula, Mujnai and a few other closed estates are expecting Talwar in the next two days.

Source: The Telegraph

Decent Education for Darjeeling children

Darjeeling: Helen Jones has opened the gates of her garden for the people at Whitby, North Yorkshire, so that little children from this hill town can get a decent education.

The retired physics teacher of Whitby Community College was so impressed by “eager schoolchildren walking miles everyday, smartly dressed and well behaved at all times” that she came back from England to start Roseberry Nursery School, where education is imparted free of cost to those who cannot afford it.

“I opened my garden at Whitby to the public (for a nominal charge). I also give lectures on gardening for a fee. Not only that, after explaining our aim (about the school), many people came forward to help generously,” said Jones while briefing how she has managed to collect £4,000 for the school which was opened in Toongsung last week.

The idea of the school struck Jones when following her maiden visit to India in 2002 she returned to England “always wondering how she could give something back to the area, which had given her so much pleasure and left such a deep impression on her”.

Jones soon floated a trust christened School Aid India and following advice from the UK Charity Commission, decided to appoint a local agent in Darjeeling.

The six-member trust has so far raised funds largely through word of mouth, besides the individual efforts put in by the 70-year-old Jones.

A secondary school teacher of Toongsung, B.B. Pradhan, has helped Jones by allowing his house to be used as the school building. “The school now has 27 children and they will be looked after by two teachers,” said Pradhan.

Jones believes that the children can be taught in the school for the next five years after which the trust is mulling sponsoring uniforms and textbooks for the pass-outs for as long as possible.

However, at Roseberry — the school is named after a hill in Whitby — almost everything will be for free.

When word spread that the institution would be named after the hill, an archaeological society which shares the same name, contributed £100 for the project.

Residents here have hailed Jones’s endeavour. “For people like us, a promise of quality education for free gives so much relief,” said Dawa Sherpa, a parent.

Source: The Telegraph

Kalimpong road to be done by Army

Kalimpong: East Main Road continues to be a road, but only on paper. Lack of repair has reduced it to a bundle of metalled shreds.

However, all this could change if Kalimpong Municipality agrees to a proposal of the local army station at Durpin. The army would like the civic body to hand over the road along with three others to it for maintenance.

A source said the army has sent the proposal because all the four roads (the other three being West Main Road, Upper Cart Road and Rinkingpong Road) are frequently used by them to reach Durpin, which is about 3 km from the centre of the town.

All these roads are in a pitiable condition, having gone without repairs for a very long time. However, the plight of the roads cannot be attributed to the civic body alone since they were looked after by Kalimpong Engineering Division (KED) of the DGHC till 10 months ago.

East Main Road, Upper Cart Road and Rinkingpong Road were part of the 33.2-km stretch of roads, previously looked after by the KED, that were handed over to the municipality last year.

“Once the municipality took up the responsibility of maintaining these roads, we were hopeful that they would be relaid. But though the civic body is repairing several old roads around the town, these continue to be neglected,” rued Dip Thapa, a member of Target Group, a youth organisation on East Main Road, that has taken up the cudgels on behalf the people.

In support of his claim, Thapa points to important roads like Tirpai Road, Primtam Road and K.C. Mintri that have been repaired recently. Even the state highway from Chitre on NH31A to the hill town was repaired by the PWD last winter.

By way of explanation municipality chairman C.K. Kumai had told The Telegraph recently that repair work on roads in the municipality’s jurisdiction was being held up due to a funds crunch.

The people, though, are not willing to buy that. “If the road is not repaired before the monsoon, we will take to the streets, and even start sowing seeds on the muddy road as a mark of protest,” said Thapa. “We are not bothered which agency repairs the road so long as they are repaired,” he added.

With Kumai indisposed, The Telegraph could not get the municipality’s response to the army proposal, but observers said it is unlikely to hand over the roads. In fact, the civic body, it is learnt, has recently prepared an estimate of about Rs 4 crore for the repair of the roads that lead to the army station.

Source: The Telegraph

Makaibari Tea Estate against Plastic carry bags

Makaibari tea estate, located 3 km from here, is waging a war against plastic carry bags with the help of children and tourists.

In a bid to keep the garden clean and green, the management has asked children from seven villages to collect plastic bags and dry cells (torch batteries) accumulated in the area, promising to buy back the non-biodegradable waste at the rate of Rs 2 per kg.

Every Sunday, the children are coming to the garden factory with their collection to get it weighed by the authorities. Apart from the money, they are also given sweets from time to time to ensure that their spirit does not flag.

The accumulated waste is then loaded on a tractor and sent to a recycling factory in Siliguri.

Deputy manager of the garden Debarata Majumdar said this was a 10-year-old plan, revived recently. “Earlier, the children and their parents did not take the project seriously. We could not make them realise that plastics bags are harmful for both people and tea bushes,” he said.

So the garden authorities decided to take the help of tourists who come and stay with the labourers. “We asked the tourists to help us spread awareness since they spend days living with them in their houses like a member of the family. The plan worked. Now, the parents, too, pick up plastic bags and other stuff along with their wards though we purchase the waste only from the children,” Majumdar said.

“Whatever the children earn, we let them keep as pocket money,” said Robin Khawas, a worker at the garden.

The deputy manager said Makaibari’s location made it more susceptible to the plastic menace than other gardens in the hills. He pointed out that the garden lies beside the Pankhabari route used by most vehicles returning to Siliguri from Darjeeling. “The people travelling on this road throw lot of garbage out of their vehicles and these accumulate around the tea bushes. This is why we started this project,” Majumdar said.

Darjeeling to get a fresh new lake

In a bid to better the drinking water supply to the hill town, the Bengal government has sanctioned Rs 2.1 crore for setting up of a fourth lake at Senchel near Tiger Hill.

“The digging of the fourth lake should ideally take about a year. Once completed, it will have a capacity to store 7 million gallons of water,” said a source.

A part of the Rs 52-crore Darjeeling Water Supply Pumping Scheme, efforts are on to immediately start on the project and tenders will be floated within a month, the source said.

“This new lake will not only ease water supply to the town to a large extent, it will also help the Balason river project, which will take around five years to be over. Once that project gets over and water from the river, situated 50 km away, is pumped to the town, the new tank at Senchel will serve as a reservoir for it,” the source said.

There are already two lakes — the North and South Senchel lakes — that provide the drinking water for Darjeeling town.

These two tanks, one with a storage capacity of 20 million gallons of water and the other and 13 million gallons, are fed by water from jhoras in the catchment area and also from a third lake, situated at a slightly lower altitude at Sindhap. The new one will help store additional water, tapped from the jhoras in the catchment area, besides that from the Sindhap lake and the Balason, the source added.

To provide some relief to the drinking water problem, the Balason Drinking Water Project was proposed, for which the stone laying ceremony was held in 2004. Work for the Rs 40-crore plan is, however, yet to take off.

According to the plan, drinking water was supposed to be pumped from the Balasun river, situated 50 km from the hill town, to the Senchel lakes, from where the water was to be supplied across the Darjeeling town. Though it was supposed to be a joint venture of the state, Centre and DGHC, the hill council later decided not to undertake it as it felt the costs were too high.

The Sindhap lake usually pumps water from the Bangla jhora and is estimated to hold around 10 million gallons of water. The main object of this tank is to feed the North and South lakes.

Source: The Telegraph

Probe against Operating and Maintenance Committee

Jaigaon: The Jalpaiguri district administration has decided to probe into allegations levelled by workers of Surendra Nagar Tea Estate against the operating and maintenance committee (OMC) running the garden.

A large number of workers gathered for a meeting within the garden yesterday and alleged that members of the Citu-controlled OMC were underpaying them and not allowing the owner Rabin Paul to enter the estate.

“I have asked A. Das, the officer-in-charge of elections, to visit the garden next week and submit a report to me,” said Jalpaiguri district magistrate R. Ranjit.

In another incident, Asha Kheria, 21, a worker of the Beech tea garden, committed suicide by hanging herself in the kitchen of her house this afternoon. Asha’s neighbour Dhuba Thapa said ever since the garden shut down last Sunday, Asha’s husband, Silisti, had left to look for work in Bhutan. The woman had been without food since then, Thapa claimed. The body has been sent for post-mortem.

Source: The Telegraph

Tennis Tournament in Darjeeling

Darjeeling : Introduced by British planters more than a century ago, tennis in the hills is set to get a new lease of life.

The resurrection of the sport is in keeping with the changing profile of the game and the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club has decided to set the ball rolling by hosting the first-ever tennis tournament in the hill town.

To be held on the club premises, the three-day Darjeeling Gymkhana Amateur Invitation Championship will begin from April 20.

“More than 80 participants from Bhutan, Nepal, Calcutta and other districts of Bengal will participate in the tournament,” said Roshan Kant Ghisingh, the secretary of the organising committee.

While Bhutan will be represented by Bhutan Tennis Federation, the Nepal team will be led by Manoj Rana and Chamba Dhendup, both regulars in the international veterans’ circuit. Participants from Calcutta Gymkhana Club, DKS Club, Shyam Bazaar Tennis Club, Balurghat 1928 Club and the Himalayan Tennis Academy from Siliguri will compete in the event with teams from Midnapore, Durgapur, Malda.

The tournament also comes with promises of setting up an academy for the sport and future events in which regulars from the national circuit are expected to take part.

“Our team has been doing well in outstation tournaments and officials of the Bengal Tennis Association feel that players from the hills can excel in the sport by virtue of their physical prowess, fitness and natural flair for the game. They have given word to provide coaches if an academy is set up here,” said Jit Pradhan, a member of the club.

The upcoming tournament will be a curtain-raiser for the centenary celebrations of the club next year. The festivities next year will be aimed at popularising games in the hills, the members of the club said.

“During the centenary celebrations we will try to organise other tournaments for billiards and badminton,” said Brij Mohan Garg, the vice-president of the club.

Source: The Telegraph

Reopening of Beech Tea Estate failed

Siliguri: A tripartite meeting called to reopen Beech Tea Estate failed to yield any result today, but kept the door open for further negotiations.

The management fled from the garden on April 12 after workers had gheraoed the manager, Samsher Singh, over a number of demands earlier in the day.

“We asked the management’s representatives to reopen the garden and then solve the problems through discussions with the trade unions,” Mohammad Nasim, the joint labour commissioner posted in Siliguri, said after the meeting which was held in his office. “They were also told to continue providing basic amenities to the workers along with wages and ration to keep things under control.”

Union leaders present at the meeting said the management seemed interested in reopening the garden. “Another meeting has been called on April 25 where we expect some breakthrough,” said Prabhat Mukherjee, the Jalpaiguri district general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers.

The planters lobby remained cautious. “The situation seems to have improved after today’s meeting but the management needs more time to come to a decision,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of Indian Tea Association.

Mixed Report on Tea Status Report

Siliguri: Anuradha Talwar’s status report on the present condition of the closed tea gardens in the region has evoked mixed response in the brew belt.

While workers of closed estates are banking on the report prepared by the adviser to the Supreme Court’s food commissioner for a better future, trade union members and planters are sceptical about how much it would help implement development schemes and resume work at the gardens.

“We have been making several demands related to the workers’ welfare since the closure of the gardens. Hardly a fraction of those have been implemented till now,” said Mani Kumar Darnal, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers. “Though Talwar holds an important post, we doubt if it would prompt the government intensify its initiatives in the estates.”

Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, echoed him. “With no major breakthrough in the past few years, we are now thinking of a movement to pressure the governments and planters to reopen the gardens,” Dey said.

Even the planters do not seem to think that Talwar’s report is going to help much. “Reopening shut gardens is getting difficult every day due to several reasons, one of them being the rise in social costs,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “We don’t consider the report to be a significant document.”

Workers, however, think otherwise. “The report she has prepared comprise true information and details. If senior officials go through it and analyse our condition, there is a high chance of more relief flowing in,” said Gopal Das, an employee of the Sikarpur tea estate.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Workers demand return of owner

Banarhat: The situation in the closed Surendra Nagar Tea Estate became tense today as a section of the labourers decided to oppose the operations and maintenance committee (OMC) and demanded the return of the owner of the garden.

Of the 308 workers in the garden, 270 had gathered for a meeting within the premises today and demanded that Rabin Paul, the owner, take over the management of the garden. They also alleged that they were being exploited by the OMC, which is controlled by the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union.

Situated in the Malbazar subdivision of Jalpaiguri district, the garden was shut down in September 2003 and the OMC took over soon after.

“The OMC is forcing us to accept anything between Rs 9 and Rs 35 a day for garden work (the daily wage of a permanent worker in the garden is Rs 50.90). They have also seized our job cards, which we need to produce for the 100-days employment scheme, and are paying us Rs 40 instead of the stipulated Rs 68,” alleged a woman worker, who did not want to be named. The workers at the meeting were unanimous in their demand that Paul should come back and take control. They alleged that members of the OMC were preventing the owner from entering the garden.

“On May 19, 2003, I was kept confined in the garden for 12 hours. Since then, I have not been allowed to enter the premises. I obtained a high court order on March 29, 2005, where the district administration was directed to enable me to take over the management of the garden. But no one has cooperated since then,” Paul said over phone from Calcutta. He claimed that he had met the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri on April 3, but no steps had been taken yet.

According to observers, the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers has of late gained predominance among a substantial section of workers and a showdown with the Citu-controlled OMC seems inevitable. The members of the OMC seem to be in no mood to relent.

“The owner himself is reluctant to enter the garden. However, I will look into the allegations against the OMC if I receive a complaint.” said Jalpaiguri district magistrate R.Ranjit.

Source: The Telegraph

MP on the rescue for Closed Tea Gardens

Jaigaon: The RSP MP from Alipurduar, Joachim Buxla, today met Jairam Ramesh and asked him about the mode of distribution of the special tea funds.

Buxla, who is in New Delhi, has also demanded that the Union minister of state for trade and commerce hold a special meeting of all the stakeholders of the tea industry and four MPs from the state’s brew belt.

“He has agreed to the meeting and has promised to send the letters soon to the parties concerned,” Buxla said over phone from Delhi.

The MP claimed that after the Centre announced a Rs 1,000-crore package for closed and abandoned gardens, he had met Ramesh on March 20. Today’s meeting was a follow-up.

There are 16 closed gardens in north Bengal and one in Kerala. Ramesh has promised to finalise the plans for their revival soon. “He has instructed the Tea Board to send me a copy of the formula by which the funds are going to be distributed,” the MP said.

Source: The Telegraph

Another Dooars Tea Garden Shutdown

Jaigaon: Kartik Tea Estate located in the Samuktola police station area of Alipurduar subdivision closed down today after the manager was roughed up by the workers.

With this, 16 gardens have shut down in the Dooars.

The management was supposed to pay the workers a portion of three months’ salary as well as ration and other dues on Saturday, police said. With the amount not being paid even yesterday, the workers gheraoed the manager, Bapan Bhawal.

Besides assaulting Bhawal and tearing his shirt off, the workers kept him confined to his office from 7 am to 8 pm, the police said. The labourers reportedly refused to listen to the manager, who said the payment could not be made since there was a scarcity of funds.

Kaloo Chhetri, the unit secretary of the Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, said Bhawal left the garden around 2 pm today after handing over the closure notice to the chowkidar of the garden. “Yesterday, the labourers went to the manager to demand an explanation. The allegation of assault is not true,” Chhetri said.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Industry strike threat

After a gap of two years, leading trade unions associated with the tea industry have decided to recommence a continuous movement designed to put pressure on planters as well as the Centre and the Bengal government over several demands related to the 3-lakh-strong workforce.

In 2005, the tea industry was paralysed by a fortnight’s strike over wages. Finally, the chief minister had to intervene, which resulted in the signing of a new tripartite wage agreement. By then, the industry had suffered a loss of Rs 50 crore.

While senior leaders of the Citu and Intuc, the trade union wings of the CPM and the Congress, have been insisting on the need to reopen the closed tea estates of the region, they did not take to demonstrations or resort to strikes.

“We had submitted a charter of demands to the planters and the governments earlier, none of which has been met so far,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers. “So we have decided to re-launch the movement to secure the workers’ rights.”

The leadership of the coordination committee of plantation workers has decided to meet representatives of constituent unions at Chalsa on April 20 to work on the charter of demands. “This would be followed by another meeting on April 27 in the Terai, where our plan of action will be finalised,” Dey said.

“To begin with we are thinking of organising conventions across the tea belt right through the month of May. If the planters or the governments do not take any initiative by then, we will go for a strike in June,” a leader said.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Estate Managers Released

Jaigaon: The two assistant managers of Beech Tea Estate, who were kept confined to their quarters since April 12 by the workers, were allowed to leave the garden today after the intervention of the administration.

S.S. Gupta and G.S. Goswami were taken to the Hashimara police station after 2.30 pm and were handed over to the officer-in-charge, T. Dukpar.

The workers’ demands included jobs for the dependants of dead/retired employees and payment of dues.

“There will be a tripartite meeting at the joint labour commissioner’s office in Siliguri on Wednesday where we will try to find an end to the impasse at the garden,” said Alipurduar subdivisional officer P.D. Pradhan.

Source: The Telegraph

One more Tea Garden closure at Kalchini Block

Jaigaon: Beech Tea Estate shut down today, taking the number of closed gardens in the Kalchini block to five.

Though the closure notice was issued on April 12, it reached the government on Friday night and the workers are reportedly yet to receive the order.

The labourers, on their part, have kept two assistant managers confined to a bungalow since April 11, protesting against the management for not fulfilling their demands, which include jobs for the dependants of retired/dead employees and payment of gratuity and provident funds.

Source: The Telegraph

Self Help Group to sell CTC tea

Do not be surprised if a member of a self-help group (SHG) rings your doorbell soon, selling branded and packed CTC tea.

The state panchayat affairs and rural development department, in association with Focin, has come up with a plan to involve SHGs in blending, packaging and selling tea across Bengal.

Focin secretary Biswajit Das said tea merchandising was a lucrative option, “considering the huge difference between auction or garden prices and market prices”. “So we thought of including SHGs in the merchandising process,” he added.

The project will start with Jagriti Mahila Unnayan Sangha, a cluster of 30 SHGs with 10-12 members each. The groups are already doing business with various other products in the Champasari village panchayat area near Siliguri.

“A society will be formed to obtain a licence from Tea Board of India to purchase tea and get a VAT registration,” Das said. “The packaging machines will be set up after that.”

Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad has agreed to provide space on its campus for the packaging and blending unit. “We appreciate the concept,” said parishad sabhadhipati Moni Thapa.

Initially, tealeaves will be procured from estates in the Terai. “But once sales pick up, leaves will be purchased from auctions, too,” said P. Roy, the project director of the district rural development cell in Siliguri. The cell will provide funds for the machinery.

Efforts will be made to hone the marketing skills of the SHG members as well. “Experts from Bengal National Chambers of Commerce and Industries are expected to train them. We have also roped in an expert blender and a reputed tea garden in the venture,” Das said.

The rural development cell and Focin will also utilise their own resources to help the SHGs market their produce. “We have 1.8 lakh SHGs across the state,” Roy said. “If we mobilise the groups in districts like North Dinajpur, Malda, Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan we will be able to capture a substantial portion of the rural market.”

Das added that the packed tea would also be promoted among the 235 Focin affiliates spread across north Bengal.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Workers stand by the owners

Jaigaon: Workers of the Carron tea estate, which was battered by two hailstorms last week, have decided to stand by the management in this time of crisis.

They will work for three days per week instead of six for the next one month so that the management can save on wages and utilise the money to get the garden back into shape.

The estate is located in the Nagracata block of Alipurduar subdivision.

“When the garden had shut down in 2000, we were forced to work as boulder breakers in adjoining Bhutan as the operation and maintenance committee never paid us properly,” said Saniya Proja, a worker. “The new owner took over in 2004 and now the hailstorms have struck. For our own sake, we would rather work less so that the estate can recover.”

The manager of the estate, Utpal Lahiri, said following the workers’ decision, the garden will remain open from Monday to Wednesday. “We will continue like this for a month or so. If the bushes recover by then, regular work will resume,” Lahiri added.

The managing director of Basu Tea Private Limited, P. K. Basu, said over phone from Calcutta that he was very pleased by the workers’ gesture. “I thank them for their concern. I am proud that the workers and the unions have decided to help nurse the garden back to health,” he said.

Basu added that no bipartite or tripartite meeting was required to arrive at this decision. “This is a unique decision in the history of the tea industry. We will be able to save over Rs 4 lakh in the next month, thanks to the labourers,” he said.

With tea bushes in 290 hectares of the 300-hectare plantation damaged, Basu said the management needed medicine, fertiliser and pesticide worth a huge sum to turn things around.

Source: The Telegraph

Govt. aids three closed tea gardens

The Bengal government has decided to extend financial assistance to labourers of three closed tea gardens of the Dooars under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked-Out Industries scheme, officials of the labour department said here today.

So far, 10 of the 13 closed or abandoned tea estates in the region have been on the labour department’s list. “The three new gardens included in the scheme are Dekhlapara, Kalchini and Raimatang,” said Md Naseem, the joint labour commissioner posted in Siliguri. Under the scheme, every permanent worker of the gardens will receive Rs 750 every month from the state.

His subordinates at Jalpaiguri, where all these gardens are located, assured that the process has been initiated. “We will soon issue forms to workers of these estates. After they are filled, the forms will be scrutinised and sent to the higher level for sanction,” said Kallol Dutta, the deputy labour commissioner of Jalpaiguri. “Once the funds start coming in, we will help the workers open bank accounts, where the money will be transferred.”

Officials said they were trying to break the deadlock at the estates through tripartite meetings. “So far, at least 30 meetings have been convened for every closed estate, but to no avail,” said the joint labour commissioner. They have fallen through mostly because the management officials of closed gardens have not attended the meetings, he alleged.

The labour department has also got in touch with the provident funds (PF) officials to recover the workers’ dues.

“During the recent visit of our secretary here, it was decided that the issue will be taken up with the PF department. We are checking the dues of the workers who were on the payroll of these gardens and taking joint steps to recover the money,” an official said.

The labour department, however, said no new instructions have reached them after the finance minister’s visit to Jalpaiguri last week, when he made a number of promises to workers.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea Garden in the Dooars shuts down

Jaigaon, April 10: An abandoned tea garden in the Dooars, being run by an operation and maintenance committee (OMC), closed down yesterday following a dispute over the non-payment of dues.

The Surendranagar tea estate located in the Banarhat police station area closed down in August, 2003, following which the OMC took over. The committee has been running the garden by selling tealeaves to the factories of other gardens and also to bought-leaf factories in the area.

Trouble started last week when workers approached the committee members, demanding that they be paid their dues — their wages for the past three fortnights, a source said. They had reportedly even requested the members to pay them at least one instalment for Good Friday.

However, the committee members made it clear that they did not have the funds to pay, the source added. On Sunday, an angry group of workers reportedly locked the garden office and ransacked the home of Gopal Sarki, one of the committee members. Following the row, two labourers, Isdor Toppo and Pascal Toppo, were arrested.

The labourers refused to work unless the two were released. Isdor and Pascal were released today on bail.

“Every day we pluck 3,000 kilos of tea leaves. Now, we have decided to take the plucked leaves home, make tea by hand and then sell it to the market,” said Kialatus Kirketta, a worker. He, like his colleagues, refuse to work for a committee, which has reportedly deprived them of their rights and has even prevented them from observing Easter.

The secretary of central committee of National Union of Plantation Workers, Pradip Mullick, too, alleged that the OMC of the Surendranagar tea garden has turned corrupt. “They pay the workers half their wages. They pay even less than Rs 68 per day, which the labourers get under panchayat schemes,” Mullick alleged.

According to him, the workers have refused to work unless the “corrupt” committee members were arrested.

Sarki of the committee said they had told the workers that they did not have enough money to pay them. “The labourers pelted stones at my house and also attacked the office. I have never seen people here act like that before,” Sarki alleged. He said the committee would soon decide on the next course of action.

The inspector-in-charge of Banarhat police station, A. Goswami, said the former owner of Surendranagar, Rabin Pal, has expressed interest in taking over the management again and accordingly has secured a court order. “Pal has asked for a meeting with the district administration,” Goswami said.

Source: The Telegraph

Committee to overhaul tea laws

The formation of a central committee to overhaul laws governing the tea industry has not gone down well with a section of trade union leaders, who fear that workers’ interests will be “under-represented”.

On March 13, 2007, the Union ministry of commerce and industry issued a notification (order number T-22105/13/2003-Plant A), in which Aditi Das Rout, director (plantations), department of commerce, ordered the examination of legislations related to the tea industry (see chart). He also ordered the constitution of a committee to initiate the process.

“In order to streamline, rationalise and harmonise the applicable laws with the objective of giving fillip to faster development of tea industry, it has been decided to constitute a committee,” the order read. Outlining the work of the 13-member panel (see chart) it added that the study would be conducted in tandem with the state governments.

The committee has been asked to submit its report to the Centre in six months.

“The members met for the first time in Delhi on April 3,” said Basudeb Banerjee, chairman, Tea Board of India. “We are now waiting for feedback from the members,” he added. “Once the committee has drawn up the report, it will be put up for debate in Parliament to bring about the necessary amendments.”

Alok Chakraborty, the district president of Intuc and the joint general secretary of National Union of Plantation Workers, is the sole member representing the workers in the committee. “The initiative was long overdue. Some of the laws, like the Plantation Labour Act, are more than 50 years old,” Chakraborty said. “It is time that they are suitably amended to fit contemporary needs.”

The decision, however, has drawn flak from rival trade union factions.

“We fear from the manner in which the government is going about it, that the exercise is aimed at taking away whatever little the workers receive at the moment,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of Coordination Committee of Plantation Workers (CCPW) — an umbrella body of trade unions. “The acts are the last resort of workers and we fear the government wants to take away even these. We are not opposed to progressive amendments aimed at workers’ welfare. We have ourselves been asking for legislative reforms for long. However, we are unsure of the government’s motives.”

Dey raised a series of questions to justify his apprehensions. “Why is it being done in such a hush-hush manner? Despite being the umbrella body, why has the CCPW not been consulted? Why are the workers so under-represented in the committee? We do not feel that the person selected to represent the workers’ side (Chakraborty) is an adequate representative.”

In reply to the accusations, Chakraborty said: “I have contacted my counterparts across country. I intend to consult workers’ representatives across the country and from different political affiliations. I will uphold the collective opinion.”

Source: The Telegraph

District Adm on tea workers side

The district administration has taken strong exception to the functioning of the Ringtang tea garden, 7 km from Sonada, and has directed the management to submit a plan of action to stop “exploitation” of workers there.

Ever since the garden factory was razed to the ground by criminals on December 19, 1996, the estate is being run by a workers’ committee, which pays the 900 odd workers a sum of Rs 10 for every kilogram of green leaves they pluck daily. Of this, only Rs 9 per kg is actually reaching the workers as the committee keeps the rest as transportation charges.

This system has been in place for the past 11 years and though the management has not declared a lockout in the garden, it has not fulfilled statutory obligations like providing ration and healthcare to workers during the entire period.

Instead, the management is involved in the present set-up as technical advisers to the workers’ committee. The factory has not been rebuilt and labourers are without wages and other benefits. Not only that, there have been allegations that the committee in connivance with the management sells the leaves at four times the price paid to workers.

During a meeting convened at his office here today, Darjeeling district magistrate Rajesh Pandey questioned the legality of the set-up and directed Sushil Chowdhury, the owner of the garden, to comply with certain guidelines.

“We have asked him to submit a plan of action by April 20. The labour department has also been asked to look into whether the payment of Rs 9 is justifiable and work out future modalities. The owner has been asked to start the construction of the factory and we have promised to provide him all possible assistance,” Pandey said.

The plan of action is expected to designate places in the garden where the new factory and bungalows will be set up. Pandey also maintained that they wanted to know where the rest of the money (after paying the workers Rs 10 per kg) went.

Source: The Telegraph

Asim's sops mismatch tea solution

A slew of sops announced by Asim Dasgupta in Jalpaiguri yesterday has produced mixed reactions.

While workers have refused “to be taken in” by the finance minister’s aid schemes, planters have protested against the “coercive action” suggested by Dasgupta against them.

“We are not ready to be taken in by his promises till they are implemented,” said Biplab Sarkar, an employee of the closed Bharnobari tea estate today. “We want to see if the minister keeps his word.”

The minister has sanctioned Rs 16 crore for closed estates for the next three months and if at the end of the period there is no breakthrough, another allotment would be made.

Dasgupta had also said the state would soon, in association with the provident funds department, initiate action against planters who have fled from estates leaving crores as PF dues.

These two major announcements apart, Dasgupta has also promised a host of aid schemes for the workers.

But all these could not convince Sania Bhumij of Raipur, another closed estate. “The declarations mean nothing to us till some concrete benefits trickle in,” Bhumij said. “There were others who had visited the gardens earlier, but nothing came out of them.”

Residents at Redbank, where Dasgupta went yesterday, however, spoke differently. “Officials of the relief department have started working for the distribution of foodgrain,” said Debabrata Pal, the head clerk of the estate. “Even the process of assessing the repair cost of houses has started.”

Notwithstanding the Rs 16 crore fund, the suggestion of punitive action has not gone down well with the planters. “We feel any coercive action will only lead to adverse reaction,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “The government should think about the situations that prompted some planters to abandon their property.”

Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, has welcomed Dasgupta’s efforts, but added: “We want the chief minister and his colleagues to monitor the progress of the plans spelt out by the finance minister.”

Source: The Telegraph