Pay hike for tea workers

The near 30,000 tea industry sub-staffs in north Bengal have got a salary hike with effect from 1 April this year. The development comes in the wake of a tripartite agreement inked between the employee unions, the planters’ bodies and the state government in Kolkata on 26 November.
According to the Intuc leader, Mr Aloke Chakrovorty, who attended the two-day long tripartite negotiation as one of the employee representatives, the average hike in the basic salary is calculated at around Rs 300.
“Along with the DA, VDA and other allowances, the hike per sub-staff is around Rs 500,” he said. As per the revised salary structure, a Grade-I tea industry sub-staff will now be paid in the scale of Rs 1530-22-1750-29-2185, Grade-II would get Rs 1490-21-1700-25-2075 and those in Grade - III, would fetch Rs 1440-20-20-1640-24-2000. As decided, the new salary structure would put into retrospective effect from 1 April 2008 and the same would be in place for the next three years. “The employers would pay arrears to the concerned staffs in two equal installments on or before 25 December this year and 31 March 2009, respectively,” informed Mr Chakvorty.
As per the previous tripartite agreement vis-à-vis the sub-staffs’ pay signed on 25 July 2005, the employees had got a basic salary hike of Rs 181. The two-day long tripartite negotiation meeting culminated into the new agreement

Tea workshops

The Goodricke Group Limited has decided to conduct workshops on tea cultivation for small growers of Jalpaiguri district.

The group that has 27 gardens across the country, 12 of them being in the Dooars, has decided to hold such trainings to ensure that the tealeaves supplied by the small growers to the company are of high quality.

Vivekananda Mondal, who is associated with Goodricke, said the first workshop would be held in the group’s Denguajhar Tea Estate, located on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town, on November 29.

At the workshop, growers would be taught scientific methods of pruning of tealeaves, use of manure and fertilisers.

“We will have officials from the tea board and experts of the group to speak at the workshop which, we feel, will be attended by 100-150 growers,” said Mondal.

Five gored by bison, three held

Alipurduar, Nov. 20: Five persons, including three foresters, were gored by two bison in separate incidents at tea gardens in Banarhat today. While one animal died after being tranquillised, the other was killed by residents of the estate.

Three workers of Palasbari Tea Garden were arrested for killing the bison. Police and foresters seized raw and cooked meat from them.

This morning, one bison entered Banarhat Tea Estate, 83km from here. As the foresters shot a dart to tranquillise the animal, it attacked them. Kalyan Mukherjee, the beat officer of the Banarhat range, and two other guards were injured.

The bison was tranquillised later but it died on the way to forest. Manindr a Biswas, conservator of forest, north said: “The animal is known for its weak heart and died because it ran a long distance.”

Mukherjee has been admitted to a nursing home in Siliguri. “Doctors said he has multiple fractures on both hands and legs. He has also suffered a fracture in the pelvic girdle which has led to internal haemorrhage,” Kalyan Das, the divisional forest officer of Jalpaiguri, who accompanied Mukherjee, said.

At Palashbari, 4km from the Banarhat garden, workers spotted a bison about 2pm. The animal injured two workers who have been admitted to a Jalpaiguri hospital. Angry over the attack, the residents chased the bison, which fell in a drain. They then stoned it to death and then chopped it.

In the evening, three workers were picked up. “Raw meat weighing around 3kg and some cooked meat were seized during the raid,” Das said.

Injured rhino

A rhino has been found limping in Gorumara National Park and Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary for the past two days.

Foresters spotted the rhino with injury on the back and blood oozing from the rectum. “We are yet to know the sex of the rhino,” an officer said. “We suspect that it might have fallen prey to forcible mating or infighting or might have been hit by a train while trying to cross the tracks.”

Small growers on Amul mission

Siliguri, Nov. 19: Small tea growers of north Bengal are on a visit to Gujarat to study the success of Amul and replicate the model in their sector.

“We had been toying with the idea to visit Amul to witness the activities right from grassroots to the top level,” Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the Confederation of Small Tea Growers’ Associations of India and a grower of north Bengal, said over phone from Gujarat. “The opportunity finally came and we reached here yesterday to study how milk producers, who form the lowest rung in Amul, could taste success through a concerted effort and planning.”

The three-day visit to Gujarat was organised in association with the National Dairy Development Board.

“Self-help groups are mushrooming in our sector on a regular basis,” said Debasish Pal, another grower from north Bengal in the delegation. “Seeing that more growers are joining, we are contemplating on a plan to reach the consumer directly with our branded tea like what Amul is doing with its versatile range of products.”

The eight-member delegation has members from other tea producing states as well.

“If milk producers can unite, work on an accumulated capital along with financial assistance and take the help of technology to become a model cooperative movement in the country, why cannot the small tea growers, whose number is going up everyday, replicate the process?” Pal asked.

With the research organisations in India busy in working on value added products like specially flavoured tea, tablets, drink, chocolates and biscuits, the growers of the country are keeping their fingers crossed. “In case we take the strategy adopted by founders of Amul and get success, the value added products can be merchandised,” Chakraborty said.

During their visit to Gujarat, the small growers met with officials, milk producers and other stakeholders of Amul. “We witnessed how milk is accumulated and processed to make different products. Also, we got ideas how the producers are paid, what other facilities they enjoy, how the entire chain is maintained,” said a member of the delegation.

Tea workers’ stir worries LF

SILIGURI, Nov. 18: The principal constituents of the West Bengal Left Front today cautioned that growing resentment over a number of issues among the tribal tea plantation labourers might lead to a major law and order problem in north Bengal in near future.

“The portents are ominous. Grievances have been growing among the tribal community principally concentrated in the tea plantations over the continuing deprivation. This unrest being negatively channelised for some time might snowball into a major law and order problem in the region,” said the Darjeeling district RSP, Forward Bloc and CPI leaders.

The RSP Darjeeling district secretary Mr Binay Chakravarty said that the tribal people working in the tea plantation were at the receiving end of the exploitative tactics being adopted by the plantation owners. “The subservient role being played by the Centre and the state government is accentuating the problem. The depth of the apathy to the plight of the workers can be gauged from the fact that the tea plantation related housing board meeting had been held a week ago after a span of a decade. Moreover, there is no drinking water provision in most of the tea plantations in the Darjeeling and the Jalpaiguri districts,” he said.

The FB Darjeeling district secretary Mr Smritish Bhattacharya said that apart from the lack of drinking water provision there is no health centre to cater to the medical requirements of the plantation workers. “Besides, the residential quarters in many plantations are crumbling. This situation, becoming alarming as it is, may spiral out of the control of the administration any time unless the pent up grievances are sincerely addressed,” the FB leader said.

Echoing the apprehension, the CPI Darjeeling district secretary Mr Ujjawal Chowdhury said that mere profiteering inclination on the part of the plantation owners in flagrant violation of the Plantation Labour Act might land the region in problem. “The Centre and the state government should step in immediately to force the owners to take initiatives at bettering the living condition of the workers,” he said.
Asked to comment the CPI-M state committee member Mr Jibesh Sarkar said that the Left Front government had been doing everything to better the living conditions of the plantation workers. “But a state government, given several constraints, cannot go against the socio-economic structure of the country. Nonetheless, the wages have increased many times over the past years because of relentless pressure from the state government on the profit mongering owners. The faulty Central economic policy is responsible for the fast worsening plight of the poor people as a whole,” the CPI-M leader asserted.

Success in closed garden

Siliguri, Nov. 18: Nearly three years after the management had abandoned the closed Sikarpur and Bhandapur Tea Estate, workers find themselves financially sound and are considering running the factory on their own. The success has made them different from their counterparts in the Dooars.

After the management left the garden on January 12, 2006, the 1,550 employees of the estate located in the Rajganj block of Jalpaiguri worked hard to maintain the bushes and augment the tealeaves production which fetched them Rs 16.20 per kilogram from the bought-leaf factories.

“Each one of us agreed that the garden must be saved at any cost for the sustenance of our families,” said Phanindranath Das, a clerk of the estate. “We formed the operating and management committee (OMC) on July 17, 2006 and made every employee understand the need to work together. The overwhelming response from their side has led to today’s success.”

During this period, the workers managed to replant new tea bushes in around 20 hectares and also developed a nursery having one lakh saplings. “We have also made another 10 hectares ready for plantation and on regular basis, take care of each bush by providing manure, fertilisers and pesticides and doing pruning in the lean months. The exercise that took more than two years have started yielding results as we are producing around 10-11 lakh kg tealeaves in a year,” said Samaruddin Ali, a worker.

The workers are assigned with plucking 18kg of tealeaves subject to a minimum of 10kg for which they get Rs 50 per day. Incentives at the rate of Re 1 is paid to them for every kg of extra leaves plucked above 18kg. “Added to this is the financial assistance of Rs 750 that every worker receives from the state government every month and earnings from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,” Ali said.

Today, the workers are financially sound and the OMC also owns a substantial sum in its account.

“Our ultimate aim will be to open the factory and run it on our own,” Jhalo Meher, another worker, said. “The OMC members had approached the district magistrate with a proposal, requesting her to arrange for funds to renovate and open the factory.”

Das said they made a project mentioning the cost of Rs 50.88 lakh and invited her to the garden.

Responding to their call, Bandana Yadav, the district magistrate, visited the garden this afternoon. “I wanted to talk to them and see the estate. It was important to judge the feasibility of the proposal,” she said.

Tea strike put on hold

Siliguri, Nov. 18: An impasse that had been continuing over the last week regarding the storage and sampling of tea sold through the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre (STAC) temporarily ended today. The Siliguri Tea Warehousing Association agreed to suspend its agitation for the time being.

Up to one lakh tea bags, from over 200 gardens, holding 35kg of tea each, are stored in the 28 warehouses in Siliguri. The agitation was over the delay to decide on the new rents that the producers and buyers will have to pay for the storage. The revision, which takes place every two year, was scheduled to be done earlier this year.

However, the new rate decided by the warehouse owners has put the buyers and producers on the back foot. They have been holding their own meetings to reach an amicable rate, which is apparently, the reason for the delay.

“We had been compelled to resort to a partial strike since November 11, a day after a cut-off date had been intimated in writing to STAC for calling a meeting to finally decide on the new rates,” said Sandip Sinhal, secretary of the warehousing association.

Although deliveries taken out from the warehouses by buyers had not been affected, the entry of new lots of tea and the sampling of existing lots had stopped completely because of this delay.

However, based on a request from STAC chairman Gangadhar Agarwal, the warehouse association decided to suspend the agitation till November 24, by which time Agarwal has assured that the revised rate of rental would be agreed upon.

“The tea for Sale 48, which will take place on November 27, has arrived. But that of Sale 49, scheduled for December 4, has partially arrived, while that for Sale 50 on December 11 has not arrived at all,” said Col. (retd) T.B. Subba, STAC secretary.

Two full-fledged meetings, at which all the stakeholders were expected to take part, had already been convened in this month. But, both were inconclusive for want of quorum.

“There appears to be a lack of seriousness on the part of STAC,” said Sinhal.

“We had held a token strike on October 30 and had written a letter before that to STAC’s warehousing advisory body, saying we would resort to an indefinite agitation. But the meeting is yet to be held,” he said.

A prominent tea producer and former STAC chairman S.K. Saria pointed out that the warehouse association has demanded a steep 40 per cent increase in the rental.

“At a time when international recession has hit the demand for tea, this hike will affect producers badly,” he said. “We have still held meetings with the association and some agreement will be reached,” Saria said. “Otherwise, sales through the Calcutta and Guwahati centres will be at an advantage, while north Bengal will suffer.”

Student body found near tea garden

Kurseong, Nov. 13: The body of a 19-year-old boy, who had gone missing on November 9, was found in Dhobitar, 3km from here, this morning.

An empty bottle of apple juice and the covers of Spasmoproxyvon were recovered from near the body of Furtangi Sherpa, a Class X student of St Alphonsus School here.

The boy was a resident of Sherpa Busty, situated above Kurseong.

Furtangi, who had lost his parents, used to live with his uncle Norbu Sherpa, a government employee. Asked whether his nephew had been a drug addict, Norbu said: “We have no knowledge about that.”

He said the boy had gone missing on November 9 and a diary had been filed with the Kurseong police station the next day.

“There was no specific reason for Furtangi to leave the house. We had been searching for him till this morning when we got the news from police that he was found dead,” said Norbu.

A police officer said the body had been spotted first by the workers of nearby Gauri Shankar Tea Estate around 8.30am.

“Initial investigation shows that he had gulped do-wn 48 Spasmoproxyvon tabl-ets with apple juice. The student might have died not less than two days ago. We suspect that he was suffering from depression,” said the officer.

He added that the body had been sent to the Kurse-ong Subdivisional Hospital for post-mortem and any co-mment on the possible cause of the death could be made only after the police received the report on it.

Kurseong subdivisional police officer Rakesh Singh also echoed the official. "Since we have not received the post-mortem report, we don't want to speculate on how the boy died. The investigation is going on,” he said.

The police said there was no injury mark on the body and chances of murder were less.

A case of unnatural death has been registered.

Contacted, the principal of the school, Father Edwards Gurung, said he was unaware of the death.

“Since the school is closed both today and tomorrow because of Morcha strike, we are not aware of the death of any student. I am not able to identify the boy by his name. Whatever has happened is sad for us and his family,” said Gurung over the phone from Siliguri.

Rally for peace in hills and plains

Siliguri, Nov. 7: Thousands of tea garden workers turned up at a rally organised by the Intuc to showcase hills-plains unity in the context of the ongoing agitation for a separate state.

The rally that started from Sukna railway station, 7km from here, around 12.30pm, saw the participation of labourers from different tea plantations in the Terai, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Panighata. Before the workers started marching, a small cultural programme was held in front of the station where members of the Bharatiya Gorkha Bhutpurba Sainik Morcha, the ex-servicemen wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, were present.

“Such an initiative is always welcome as it will help maintain peace and harmony in the region. We are happy to be part of this kind of programmes,” said Surendra Pradhan, the Siliguri zonal secretary of the Sainik Morcha.

The rally by the labour wing of the Congress ended at Siliguri Court complex at 3.30pm, after covering a distance of about 10km.

Aloke Chakraborty, the district president of the Intuc, slammed the Bengal government for the present turmoil in the region.

“Because of the wrong policy of the state government, the hills and plains are witnessing movements and counter-movements, vitiating the atmosphere. We apprehend that such agitations will not only hamper the unity of the region but also affect the tea sector which provides jobs to people of different communities,” he said.

Chakraborty said the rally had been organised in a bid to maintain the peace that had been restored after the recent visit of the governor, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

The Intuc leader, along with other leaders, later submitted a memorandum, addressed to the governor, to Siliguri additional district magistrate. They have sought Gandhi’s intervention to find a permanent solution to the problems plaguing the region.

Many Congress leaders, including the district president, Shankar Malakar, were conspicuous by their absence from the rally. “It was not necessary for me and other district leaders to attend a march organised by the party’s labour wing,” said Malakar.

Small growers on saving spree for tea factory

Siliguri, Nov. 5: A group of small tea growers of Jalpaiguri is contemplating setting up a factory by 2010 by saving Re 1 from every kg of tealeaves sold.

The 300-plus members of the Panbari Small Tea Growers’ Society in Jalpaiguri’s Mainaguri block have been mobilising funds for the past one year for the factory which they claim will be the first of its kind in the country.

The society has recently been identified as a model self-help group by the Tea Board of India. Small growers are spread over four tea producing states of Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“The members of the society have agreed to keep aside Re 1 for every kg of tealeaves sold by them. As their annual sale is around 18-20 lakh kg, they can garner Rs 40-60 lakh by 2010,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the vice-president of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “An investment of Rs 1.50 crore is necessary to set up the factory if the tealeaves produced by them need to be processed in the plant.”

While the society members will contribute to the factory, they will also ask for subsidy from the tea board for building the plant. “We are also taking up the matter with Nabard for additional funds,” Chakraborty said.

The society has 317 members with the plantation spread across 800 acres, which is almost the area of a tea estate. Recently, the members have purchased a plot of five bighas in the area for constructing the factory.

“The factory will be the first in India to be set up by small growers,” said Badal Debnath, a society member.

Tea board officials are keen to see the factory coming up at Panbari. “The society members are doing excellent work but it will definitely take some time for them to assimilate the funds. We cannot fund the entire project because of some limitations,” G. Boriah, the director (tea development) of the board, told The Telegraph from Calcutta today.

“Once the factory comes up, we will encourage more such plants to help small growers process their tealeaves,” Boriah said.

The board has decided to open small growers’ cells in all tea producing states in the country. The ones in Jalpaiguri and Dibrugarh will be opened soon, he added.

“These offices will take care of the small growers. The Union commerce and industry ministry has sanctioned 11 posts for them.”

Tea prices come down by Rs 6 in Siliguri - Global financial crisis hits brew sector

Siliguri, Nov. 4: Tea prices have plummeted in north Bengal after they reached close to Rs 100 a kg. There has been a sharp fall of Rs 6-7 per kg at the auctions held here at the end of last month and according to the stakeholders, the global financial meltdown is to blame for the crash.

After nearly one decade of slump when the price had come down to as low as Rs 54 per kg in the region, the commodity had been fetching a higher amount since the beginning of this year. The rise in the price had been a major relief for the brew belt.

“Since March 2008, the sector had been doing well. The prices started rising after many years and we were feeling a bit relieved that the financial distress faced by those associated with the sector would somehow be eased,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of Indian Tea Association.

“However, the sharp fall we have witnessed in the past couple of auctions held in Siliguri and at other centres in Calcutta and Guwahati have left us contemplative,” he said.

Bhattacharjee added that the present global recession had led to a liquidity crisis, thereby affecting tea sales across India. “As the demand came down, the prices started nose-diving and I don’t see any other reason for the fall.”

According to the statistics available with the Tea Board of India, the average price at the auctions held from January to September this year in Calcutta was Rs 101 against Rs 82.36 during the corresponding period in 2007. In Guwahati, the brew was sold at Rs 88.86 in the same period this year. In 2007, the price was Rs 68.06.

At Siliguri auction centre, the figures were Rs 64.92 for 2007 and Rs 82.95 this year. The average price of tea reached Rs 92.07 from Rs 72.63 last year in north India. In south India, the average price during January-September this year was Rs 63.56, higher than Rs 50.34 in 2007. The-all India average auction price also crossed the Rs 80-mark. It was Rs 82.76 this year, an increase of Rs 16 from Rs 66.53 in 2007.

“Everything was fine till mid-October, but following the depression experienced by the global economy, importers could not supply more tea in international markets. This brought down the prices,” said K.K. Mintri, a planter of north Bengal. “It is not only CTC tea but the Darjeeling variety has also suffered a setback to some extent. As far as I understand, other tea producing countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, which bank mainly on exports, are also facing the similar situation.”

Mintri said if the prices continued to come down, it would become tough for planters to meet expenditures like workers’ wages which had been revised recently.

Intuc rally on hill awareness

Siliguri, Nov.3: The Intuc will organise a rally on Friday to create an awareness among tea garden workers on the prevailing situation in the hills and the plains keeping in mind the Gorkhaland agitation.

The rally by the labour wing of the Congress will begin at the Sukna station and culminate at Court More here after travelling 7km.

Aloke Chakraborty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc, said: “I don’t want to comment on the movement demanding separate statehood because the dialogues are going on between the central and state government. But the movement and counter movements will not only hamper the peace and amity between the people of hills and plains, but will also affect tea garden workers of the Terai and the Dooars where the employees of different communities are working together,” he said

Thousands of tea workers from Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong subdivisions and those from the plains will participate in the rally. “We will also welcome members from other trade unions,” Chakraborty said.

At the Sukna station, a short cultural programme of the Adivasis, Nepali and Bengali folk dances will be performed before the rally begins.

The participants in the rally will carry a white flag symbolising peace. “The flag will be handed over to members of the Congress Sevadal and the Chhatra Parishad at Pintail Village who will carry it till Darjeeling More. There, the district Youth Congress members will receive the flag and will take it to Court More,” Chakraborty said.

After the rally, the Intuc members will submit a memorandum addressed to the governor through the additional district magistrate in Siliguri.

“During the agitation by the GNLF in late eighties, we had organised a similar rally titled Pahar theke Sagor which was successful. We hope that the Friday’s rally will also be fruitful,” the Intuc leader said. “Similar programmes will also be organised across the region to bring peace and harmony,” he added.

Garden opens but doubts brew

Alipurduar, Nov. 2: The management of Mujnai Tea Estate has alleged that the workers have sold at least 30,000kg of tealeaves in four days despite an agreement on October 27 that plucking would be stopped the next day.

Although the garden in Madarihat reopened yesterday after 11months, the excitement usually seen among workers when an estate resumes operation was absent.

“The labourers apprehend that the management will once again abandon the estate. If it closes down, we will again have to wait for one year for the operations and maintenance committee (OMC) to take charge. Anyway, we will co-operate with the management,” said Ashish Biswas, a worker of the estate located 60km from here.

When a garden closes down, the government appoints OMCs which look after the estate, helping them pluck leaves and finding buyers for them. The sales proceeds are distributed among the workers.

In the past six years, the workers alleged that the management had abandoned the garden at least four times.

The owners, too, did not sound much hopeful.

N.N. Chakroborty, a senior adviser to Anjuman Tea Company Limited that owns Mujnai, said: “We expected to get a yield of at least 1 lakh kg of green leaves, but we are left with around 30,000kg only.”

“The trade union leaders had assured us at a meeting on October 27 that plucking would be stopped the next day. But that did not happen. Instead 10,000kg of leaves were taken away in a single day. One can imagine the amount for four days. The buyers of these leaves do not want the gardens to open and so the problems of closed estates never get solved,” said Chakroborty, who fears a crisis in the cropping season as well.

“Shade trees in more than 400 acres have been chopped. Some workers have even occupied the residences of assistant managers and staff,” he said.

The adviser to the company said during the period when the garden was closed, the workers sold tealeaves at Rs 7 per kg, while the market rate was not less than Rs 14.

The garden had been closed from April 2002 to October 2004 and from November 2005 to January 2006.

It again stopped operations in May 2007 for a month. It shut down again in November 2007 and reopened yesterday.

The estate has a workforce of 999. The company owes them Rs 1.50 crore in PF, Rs 30 lakh in gratuity and Rs 36 lakh in bonus. The wages of four weeks and ration of 11 months are also pending. The wages for October 2007 were given yesterday.

The factory was swept clean and so was the hospital, but there was nobody to decorate the offices, a practice among workers when a garden reopens. Nor was the management welcomed with flowers, another prevalent practice.

Terror leopard trapped

Jaigaon, Nov. 2: An adult male leopard that created panic in the Bhagatpur tea garden for more than three months was caught in a trap baited with a goat laid by the forest department.

The eight-year-old leopard, the second trapped in 38 days at the garden in Nagrakata, was later released at Gorumara National Park, 4km away.

Punia Lohar, a worker, was among the first to spot the leopard around 5.30am today, banging the cage trying to seek a way out. He informed the garden manager, J.K. Kaul, who got in touch with the forest range office at Khunia.

“The leopard that was caught today and the earlier one of around nine-year-old which was trapped on September 24 have been creating panic in the garden for the past three months. We had informed the foresters who had laid the trap in Section 19 of the estate 15 days ago,” Kaul said.

The manager said the big cats had been preying on the poultry and livestock that the garden workers owned. “Our daily plucking rate came down as the workers were scared of the attack by the leopards.”

Asha Oraon, another worker, echoed the manager. “Although the leopard had not attacked anyone of us, but the animal was taking away our goats and chicken,” she said.

Around 8am, the forest employees arrived and took the big cat (in picture by Biplab Basak) away in a tractor-trailer provided by the garden authorities.

“The leopard was released in Gorumara in the afternoon. The earlier one which was trapped on September 24 was also set free there,” said Nripendranath Saha, the range officer of Khunia.

2 held for branding worker witch

Siliguri, Nov. 2: Two persons of Bani Tea Estate in Ambari-Falakata were arrested for branding a co-worker of the garden a witch and creating a commotion in the area.

Lachhu Oraon (55) and Dipak Munda (48) were today produced in the court of the Jalpaiguri Sadar sub-divisional officer, Atanu Roy. “I asked them to produce a bond with a surety from a responsible person for their release. But when they failed to do so, I booked them under Section 107 CrPC (preventive measure for maintaining peace) and remanded them in judicial custody for two days,” Roy said.

The woman, Bhudni Oraon (50), who was also produced in court, was released after her version was recorded. She was detained for being a party to the commotion.

Yesterday, police at the Ambari-Falakata outpost had received a complaint from residents of Bairivita-Gudiaganj village next to the tea estate, about 40km from Jalpaiguri, where the three workers live.

According to the complaint, Lachhu and Dipak, who had been threatening Bhudni since the Kali Puja night, had raided her house, blaming her for the spate of fever and sickness that the villagers were going through recently. They dragged her out from her house and tied her to a tree.

The woman shouted out in protest, denying the duo’s charges, and the exchange led to a commotion in the area, the police said.

A similar incident had happened on the night of Kali Puja also. “The two had gone to Bhudni’s house in a drunken state and assaulted her, accusing her of being a witch and the reason behind so many people falling sick,” a villager said. They even threatened to kill her.

Bhudni, a widow for the last three years with a 20-year-old daughter, approached the garden authorities to save her.

At the court today, Dipak admitted to have raided the woman’s house on the night of Kali Puja. “An argument started during which we called her a witch. We had told her that she would be killed,” he said before being taken away to custody.

The subdivisional officer said he had taken up the case based on the police report and awarded the remand on the basis of the confessions by the accused.