Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh might just have to face some unsavoury questions when he comes to north Bengal on June 29.

Tea planters across the region have expressed dissatisfaction at the Centre’s preoccupation with closed estates alone.

Ramesh is expected to attend a meeting on the disbursement of the Special Purpose Tea Fund at Jalpaiguri on the day. According to Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee, Ramesh will also attempt to open two of the 13 closed estates in the Dooars.

“Will the tea gardens have to close down in order to get the government’s attention?” asked K.K. Mintri, advisory member of the Tea Association of India, Terai Indian Planters’ Association and the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee. “There are a large number of gardens on the verge of closure. Does the government have any plan to help these gardens?”

Planter and chairman of the Siliguri Tea Auction Committee S.K. Saria feared that this approach of the government might even be counterproductive. “If the government restricts financial help to only closed gardens, it may result in other estates closing down one by one. Some of them are barely surviving,” he said.

U.B. Das, the secretary of the Terai Branch of the Indian Tea Association, seemed to agree.

“Barring four of the 47 gardens in the Terai region, all have some problem or the other and are failing in their commitment to the workers, be it provident fund, gratuity or fringe benefits,” he said.

It is almost the same picture in the Dooars.

“Of the 153 gardens in the Dooars, 50-60 are in dire straits and can close down any moment,” said P.K. Bhattacharya, secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association. “They just about manage because of their understanding with the workers. Nothing short of government help can bail these gardens out.”

Bhattacharya said planters would take up the issue with Ramesh on June 29.

“We plan to put forth a set of proposals outlining measures that the government can take,” Bhattacharya said. “If not direct financial help, it could announce some relaxation to the tottering gardens by waiving the penalty interest on accumulated provident fund not paid by planters and extending moratoriums in banks.”

Tripartite meet
A tripartite meeting on Surendranagar tea estate was held in Jalpaiguri today. Conducted by the district magistrate, the meeting was attended by owner Rabin Paul and trade union representatives. It was decided that the few workers, who had stayed away from work since the garden’s reopening on May 17, would join their duties from tomorrow. It was also announced that Ramesh would go to the garden during his visit to the area at the end of the month.

Source: The Telegraph