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