Kohinoor abandoned for third time

Kohinoor Tea Estate (Alipurduar), Dec. 21: Nearly 3,000 people of a garden are apprehensive of what the future holds for them after the management of Kohinoor Tea Estate abandoned it last week, bringing back memories of two other shut down instances during the lean season.

Kohinoor, which is 21km from Alipurduar town, withdrew its managerial staff from without any notice on the evening of December 19. Even in the evening, none of the 888 permanent workers or their dependants in the garden were aware that it had been abandoned. The realisation came late in the night.

Anil Chik Baraik, the secretary of the garden unit of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, said the garden owed the workers not less than Rs 6 crore.

“Late on Friday night, a source informed us that the management staff were not coming back. We informed the Samuktala police and the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar that the estate has been abandoned. Four years ago, during an agreement the management promised us many things, none of which were fulfilled. We sacrificed 20 months wages to help the management but all in vain,” said Baraik.

Today was a date for a fortnightly payment. The workers had requested deputy manager Suman Ghosh to see if the salary could be given on the 19th so that they could shop for Christmas from the Samuktala weekly market on Friday.

“There is no reason for the management to leave because this year, too, we produced five lakh kg of made-tea. If we had been allowed to work today, 10,000 kg of green leaves would have been plucked. The management left the garden so that they did not have to pay the wages on the 22nd. On the 16th and the 19th, there were two meetings in the office of assistant labour commissioner on early salary, but nobody attended them. This is the third time the management left the garden during the lean season,” said Baraik.

In 2006, the management had deserted the garden from December 6 to January 7. A similar shutdown took place in March this year for 10 days. Prem Pandey, a worker of the garden and the member of the RSP’s UTUC, said the lean season was a time of “no production”. “The planters shut down the garden to avoid paying us for the lean season. Besides, abandoning without notice, deprives us of government aid.”

Keshab Sinha, the general manager, said over the phone that the management had wanted to deduct wages for the period when the workers demonstrated in front of the garden for three hours from December 3 to the 16th. “That is when trouble started. The workers met the deputy manager and threatened not to leave the office, if their wages were deducted. On the 16th, they burnt my effigy. We felt insecure and left the garden.”

Amitangshu Chakroborty, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said: “When they did not work for three hours for 13 continuous days, how can they demand wages? The management is ready to discuss the problem.”