Closed tea estate gets back to work

Bharnobari Tea Estate (Alipurduar), April 27: Workers of this Dooars tea garden had a busy Sunday as they cleaned and painted the factory to get it ready for tomorrow, when the garden reopens after nearly two-and-a-half years.

They also gave the display board outside the garden a fresh coat of paint. The notice board in the office announced that the garden would reopen on May 28.

Three new financiers have taken over the garden that has been closed since December 30, 2005. Two of them — Surojit Basu and Ashoke Chawla — visited Bharnobari today. The third financier is Kingshuk Sinha.

“We are yet to get the ownership documents because of some legal wrangle, but the garden will be transferred in our name soon,” said Basu, who, along with the other two, runs two gardens in north Bengal and Assam.

“We are happy to see that the machines in Bharnobari are ready. Not a single thing has been stolen from the factory though the workers have gone through very difficult times,” said Basu.

A source said the main problem was that the garden’s electricity lines had been disconnected a long time ago. “They will have to use a generator to begin manufacturing tea and that is going to be very costly,” the source added.

Basu, however, said the electricity connection would be restored within three weeks. The financier added that initially they would invest Rs 12 crore over two years. “We will spend Rs 8 crore to clear 60 per cent of the dues of the workers and another Rs 4 crore to run the garden,” Basu said. “We also plan to plant new tea bushes in the 30 acres of the plantation that are lying unused.”

The workers, on their part, said they would not claim their dues until 2009. “For one year, we will not claim any dues because it will be better to invest the money in the garden. The important point is that the new owners run two other gardens and they know the ins and outs of the business,” Babulal Harizon, a worker, said.

Even if the dues are held back for a year, the workers will be paid their wages. “Each of them will also receive Rs 750 a month from the Bengal government as financial assistance to workers of locked out industries,” said Madan Sarki, the convener of the operations and management committee of Bharnobari.