Estate acquisition by government if owner doesn't respond

The tea board has told the owners of closed gardens to explain within October 16 why the Centre should not take over their estates by invoking Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act of 1953.

The owners have already missed two earlier deadlines (in August and September), though this is the first time that they have been showcaused.

“We are not sitting idle,” Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh told The Telegraph yesterday. “Showcause notices have been served to them (the owners) on October 5 and if they do not respond within the specified date (October 16), we will go ahead with the acquisition.”

Section 16 (E) allows the Centre to take over the management of a tea estate and give it to another entrepreneur without any inquiry if the garden remains closed for three months or more.

The minister, who was on a two-day tour of north Bengal, added that the showcause notices ask for specific information from the owners. “Like what liabilities they have, how they plan to settle their provident fund dues, the discussions they have had with the trade unions, whether they have found new investors and when they can reopen their gardens,” Ramesh explained.

From bankers, the tea board has asked for an assessment of the capacities of the existing owners, viability of the gardens, possibility of financial restructuring and details of liabilities.

“We cannot say that the gardens will open before the Pujas but there will certainly be a major change in the next one month,” Ramesh said.

Fox Mandal, a Calcutta-based law firm, has been also asked to draft an advertisement seeking expression of interest from entrepreneurs willing to take over acquired tea estates. “Some prerequisites will also be mentioned in the advertisement to be released in various newspapers,” Ramesh said.

The minister added that the board has received at least five proposals from new entrepreneurs, including some “big tea companies” and “local businessmen”.

For the 18,000-odd workers of the 13 closed gardens in north Bengal, Ramesh announced a festival grant of Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000 per family. “The money will definitely be disbursed before Diwali.”

Source: The Telegraph