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