The union and management of a garden here have come together for a common cause.

The Darjeeling district administration’s move to set up a new motor stand at Happy Valley tea estate has been opposed both by the workers and the owners of the garden.

The stand would mean a reduction in plantation size, which the new owners of the garden and the trade unions feel cannot be afforded at a time when the estate is fighting for survival.

“We cleared around Rs 60 lakh in dues after we took over the garden. The factory needs renovation for which we have to invest almost a crore. If we lose plantation land at this point of time, no one can save the estate,” said Anil Bansal, the general manager of Hrithik Investment Pvt. Ltd, which took over the estate on March 29, 2007. The estate was under a workers’ committee from 2002- 2007.

The garden has an area of 162 hectares of which 124 hectares is plantation land. The motor stand is expected to take up 5-6 hectares.

Even the unions are up in arms against the move. “If the situation so requires, the entire workforce will take leave for two to three days to stop the construction of the motor stand,” said S.K. Gurung, the president of the GNLF-affiliated Himalayan Plantation Workers’ Union (garden unit).

The workers maintain that their fortune has only just started looking up — for five years they did not get their statutory benefits (something that is not possible under a workers’ committee) — and a reduction in plantation size could put a damper on the revival spree. “We have already lost 20-25 acres to landslides and this is one of the smallest gardens in the hills. Further loss could have serious implications for the 1,500 people residing in the estate,” said Pravin Gurung, the secretary of the union.

The management believes any construction — likely to take place at an altitude at par with the road and higher than the rest of the garden — would destroy a large area, as the soil will have to be thrown downhill into the estate.

“Last year, we produced about 60,000kg of made tea but this year because of the unpredictable weather, we have been able to produce only 18,000 kg of made tea so far. At the most, the figure will rise to 35,000kg at the end of the year,” said Sudan Gurung, the manager of the garden.

The garden, which employs 335 workers, has one of the highest land-labour ratio. As against the desired 1:1 (for every acre one worker), the current ratio stands at 1:3. Reduction in plantation size might cause an imbalance in the ratio further.

Darjeeling district magistrate Rajesh Pandey had earlier told The Telegraph that nothing had been finalised about Happy Valley other than a survey. Though the municipal engineering department had been told to prepare a proposal for the government, Pandey had hinted that other plots might also be considered.

Source: The Telegraph