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