Deadline to pay tea dues

Workers of the limping Bharnobari Tea Estate today set a deadline of April 7 for the management to pay them the February wages and clear the ration dues of five months, failing which they would block the road connecting Jaigaon to NH31C.

The warning came in the form of a memorandum the labourers submitted to the Kalchini block development officer today.

The garden, located 42km from Alipurduar town, was re-opened on April 28 last year and ever since, the management had been paying the workers their wages as well as providing them with rations on time till the end of November. Although there was no power connection to the factory in the estate, generators were used to produce tea.

But with the beginning of the lean season in December, the management stopped meeting the financial obligations.

The workers were paid the wages for December in the first week of February this year only. The payments were made in parts. Permanent workers were paid first, temporary workers then and the staff and sub-staff members were the last to receive the wages.

The people living in the garden faced other problems too. The employees of electricity department had come in the first week of March to disconnect power lines to garden quarters when Madhyamik examinations were going on. At the request of the parents, the employees left the garden without snapping the power lines.

As the workers were living without wages, two persons allegedly starved to death in the estate. The BDO, S. Sundas, contacted Surojit Basu, one of the buyers of the garden, and the wages for January were paid in the first week of March.

Biplab Sarkar, a leader of the Intuc-affiliated National Union for Plantation Workers in the garden, said: “Provident fund dues are running to almost Rs 52 lakh. We are yet to receive the February wages. Rations for five months are also pending. The management had collected power bills for January from us, but did not deposit the amount with the electricity department.”

Sarkar said if chemicals were not sprayed on bushes, tea plants were bound to be eaten away by insects. “The situation in the garden is grave and the future of our children is uncertain. So, we have told the authorities that if the wages for February are not paid by April 7, we will block the road from Jaigaon to Hashimara.”

Basu said over the phone from Calcutta that the management was trying its best to clear the dues. “We have contacted labour commissioner and he will arrange for a meeting after the elections to resolve the issue.”