Jog Maya Tea Estate (Ghayabari, Darjeeling) Feb. 9: Dilmaya Mangar trudges 1.5km everyday from her house, does her work at the garden and returns home in the evening. The 46-year-old worker has been following the routine for the past three months, although she has not been paid any salary for the period.

Like Dilmaya, the 178 workers, who include the garden office employees also, come to work everyday hoping that the management will return to the estate soon and clear their dues and wages.

The garden authorities had abandoned the estate in December after they failed to clear the workers’ dues that have now accumulated to around Rs 9 lakh.

“We are attending to our duties everyday so that the management does not shut down the garden. We are hoping that they will come back soon and pay our dues. For the past three months, we have been somehow managing with the credits given by the local grocery shops. But our children’s schools are set to begin and we hope the situation will improve,” said Dilmaya who used to earn Rs 1,100 a month to feed five members in the family.

D.K. Chettri, another worker, echoed Dilmaya. “Now the grocery shops, too, are urging us to clear the dues before replenishing our stocks on fresh credits. We do not know what we are going to do,” he said.

The workers had last received their payment in November. The management had then distributed Rs.1.29 lakh as wages for October.

“On December 23, estate manager Purna Tamang left the garden saying that he would come back with the money after talking to the head office in Calcutta. But till today, we have not heard of him. Whenever we call up his cellphone, he does not answer. There is no official notice that the garden has been shut down,” said Pradeep Chettri, an office employee at the factory. “Since this is not the plucking season, the workers are doing pruning work and watering the tea bushes.”

The Telegraph’s repeated call to the manager in his cellphone went without response. In October, the garden workers had gone for an indefinite strike and had gheraoed the manager several times after the management failed to pay their dues. The garden is owned by Pradeep Kumar Sinha, an entrepreneur based in Calcutta.

Satish Chettri, a leader of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said the situation had been brought to the notice of the subdivisional officer and the block development officer of Kurseong. “Since the workers solely depend on this garden, it has become difficult for them to eke out a living at this moment. We have urged the officers to start the 100 days work scheme,” said Satish Chettri.

Since the garden has been shut without notice, the workers are not entitled to Rs 500, a monthly stipend under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries scheme.

Dipyendu Das, the subdivisional officer of Kurseong, said he had ordered the 100 days work scheme to start in the garden. “I have also sent a report on the situation to the district magistrate.”

The labour department in Darjeeling has admitted receiving complaints from the workers and the union. “We will call a meeting between the management and the union soon,” said Reena Kwok, the assistant labour commissioner.

Till then, Dilmaya and her lot are striving for a better tomorrow.

From The Telegraph