Workers block road for tea dues

More than 1,000 workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate blocked the Jaigaon road at Hasimara for eight hours, demanding their dues. The protesters positioned bicycles and benches on which women workers sat.

The blockade was lifted at 4pm after the garden management sent a part of the dues to the SBI’s Hasimara branch and promised to pay the rest by the middle of this month.

The agitation that began at 8am did not allow any Indian and Bhutan army vehicles to cross Hasimara, 40km from Alipurduar. More than 100 vehicles were stranded on both sides of the blockade.

Nearly 40 students off to appear for their second year BA exams were held up because of the blockade. “The examinees had to walk for more than a kilometre and then reached the Jaigaon college in two pick-up vans we arranged for them,” said Haider Ansari, the general secretary of the students’ union of the college.

The protesters threatened to block NH31C and also hold up railway movement if their salaries for February and March along with 10 installments of rations were not distributed by Sunday.

The tea garden in Jaigaon had reopened on April 28 last year after being closed for three years. However, payment problems cropped up from January. The management paid a portion of the workers’ wages for February on Saturday and assured that the rest would be paid by the middle of this week. But the dues were not cleared till yesterday.

At 11am today, Kalchini block development officer Rajendra Raj Sundas arrived at the spot but failed to convince the protesters.

“When the garden was reopened, the buyers assured told on timely payment of our wages. But the salaries of two months and rations for 10 weeks are due,” said Nilmani Kheria, a worker participating in the agitation.

The workers said they would chase out any politician who would come to campaign in the garden. “No one cares for us. We have no doctor, no power. We will boycott the elections,” Nilmani said.

Surojit Basu, an owner of Bharnobari, cited the bank closure for the past few days for the non-payment. “We are facing funds crunch because of the poor tea market,” he said over the phone from Delhi.