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.