Shutdown fear haunts workers - Bharnobari relives nightmare: Wages, ration pending

Workers of Bharnobari are making a beeline for Jaigaon in search of jobs even though the garden has been open from April last year.

After the management of the estate, located 42km from here, failed to pay up the wages for January and rations for 10 fortnights, the workforce has been on tenterhooks.

“All these are tell-tale signs and reminds us of the days when the garden was locked. It is better to keep our options open. Some of us are going to Jaigaon to work as day labourers or else how will we manage without rations and wages,” asked Ashoke Sarki. He is not alone.

Shankar Baidar, Santu Damai, Nakul Damai, Sumitra Lama and Tara Lama to name only a few among the 1856 workers, are regulars to Jaigaon on the India-Bhutan border. Most of them earn Rs 90 a day at the construction sites.

When the garden opened on April 28 last year, Surojit Basu, one of the three buyers had said, electricity connection to the garden factory would be restored within three weeks. Till date, however, there has been no sign of any power connection.

From August-end to November, tea was produced with the help of generator and before that — from May to August— green leaves were sent to Radharani Tea Garden for processing.

Madan Sarki, a member of Bharnobari unit of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, said: “The garden is open but only in name. Today we were supposed to receive wages but in the morning a letter arrived from Calcutta saying the workers would be paid on March 2. It means that the wages of two months will be due.”

Calls on Basu’s mobile went unanswered.

From June, the employers’ share of the provident fund had not been paid and from September, the employees’ share has not been deposited, the Citu leader alleged.

The district magistrate of Jalpaiguri, Vandana Yadav, said: “There is no arrangement to monitor open gardens, but the labour department usually keeps a watch.”

Rajat Pal, the deputy Labour commissioner of Jalpaiguri, said nobody had told him about the plight of the workers in Bharnobari. “Now that I have come to know, I will definitely look into it.”