Tea Gardens on auction

The Bengal government is set to offer two closed tea gardens — Ramjhora and Kanthalguri — in the Dooars to prospective entrepreneurs through auction. However, one of the conditions of the take-over is the settling of all dues.

The state land and land reforms department, which had cancelled the leases of both the gardens after their closure, has asked the Jalpaiguri district administration to arrange for open bidding within this month.

“We have been told to advertise in newspapers,” N.G. Hira, the additional district magistrate (general) of Jalpaiguri, said today. “Auction of the gardens will most probably take place on the third week of this month.”

Jairam Ramesh, the junior commerce minister at the Centre, during his visit to north Bengal in October, had said the responsibility of reopening Ramjhora and Kanthalguri rested with the state government. “Of the 13 closed estates, we will decide the fate of 11, either by persuading the old owners to reopen the estates or by acquiring them under Section 16 (D) or (E) of the Tea Act, 1953. The state is responsible for the remaining two, as it has cancelled the land lease.”

The state government has set some riders for the bidders. “Instead of fixing a floor price, we have set a precondition: any bidder interested in acquiring any or both the gardens has to bear the liabilities accrued with banks, provident fund (PF) department, workers and other stakeholders,” Hira said.

The previous management of Ramjhora Tea Estate — closed since August 2002 — has Rs 5.50 crore due with the banks, Rs 59.43 lakh with the tea board and Rs 58.12 lakh with the PF office. The total dues of the workers is Rs 1.64 crore. In Kanthalguri — closed since July 2002 — the workers do not have any dues. However, the earlier management has Rs 2.48 crore pending with the bank and Rs 11.65 lakh with the Tea Board. The figures are available with the Tea Board and district labour office.

“The bidder who gets the garden(s) will have to enter into an agreement with the government, mentioning details like when and how the liabilities would be cleared,” said Hira.

Source: The Telegraph