Tea workers threaten strike if demand for interim wage hike not met

The Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers (CCTPW) today threatened to launch an indefinite strike in north Bengal if its demand for an interim wage hike was not met by May.

Leaders of the CCTPW, an apex body of trade unions in north Bengal tea gardens and affiliated to Citu and Intuc, held a meeting in Jalpaiguri this afternoon to discuss the problems faced by the labourers because of inflation.

“Unprecedented rise in the prices of essential commodities has prompted us to raise the demand for an interim hike in wages with immediate effect,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the CCTPW. “We also want an increase in the dearness allowances of employees like the staff and sub-staff serving in the plantations.”

Dey said the committee would send memorandums seeking wage hike to the central and state governments and the planters’ associations on April 15. “If no positive development with regard to our demand is noticed by May, we will resort to a movement with a one day strike across the brew belt. That will be followed by dharnas, rallies, meetings and eventually an indefinite strike,” he said.

The existing wage agreement inked by the unions and the garden managements will expire in 2011.

As of now, he said, there are around 2.50 lakh workers serving in the tea industry, along with more than 30,000 staff and sub-staff.

Observers say the formation of a tea trade union by the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad and its demand to increase the daily tea wage from Rs 62 to Rs 250 have prompted the CCTPW to jump into action.

The CCTPW also demanded the recruitment of more workers by the gardens and the formation of a new wage board. “The planters had in 1999 agreed to recruit 10,000 new workers. However, only 5,000 people have been employed. We also demand another wage board,” Dey said.

He added that the last wage board had been formed by the Centre in 1966.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea sector wary of handover proposal - Industry wonders how the transfer will take place

Siliguri, March 29: Stakeholders of the tea industry are keeping their fingers crossed over the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s demand that the Centre hand over the legislative powers of 124 subjects, including tea, to a proposed interim regional authority.

“It is too early to comment and it is better to wait and see what shape the proposed authority finally takes,” said Rajah Banerjee, the owner of Makaibari Tea Estate in Darjeeling. “We are aware that discussions are on but unless some concrete development occurs, we cannot comment.”

Although Banerjee refused to speak further, other planters said the Morcha demand did not hold much rationale.

“The tea industry throughout India is governed by a specific set of rules and regulations with some norms being controlled jointly by the Centre and the respective state governments,” a planter said.

“The Morcha leaders are yet to clarify what exactly they are demanding — whether they want the portion that is at present controlled by the state, or the industry as a whole, which includes several aspects, from exports to excise duty to central sales tax.”

North Bengal produces about one-fourth of the country’s total tea. “It is not feasible to apply a different set of rules to the industry in the region — even if we consider that the interim authority will comprise the Terai and the Dooars — unlike the rest of the country,” the planter said. “If the interim set-up is formed only with the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling district, the scope (of the interim set-up) narrows down as Darjeeling Tea, even though it has a USP of its own, is only three per cent of the total national tea production.”

Political analysts believe that as tea is the apex industry in north Bengal, particularly in the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, where it yields major revenue and provides employment to thousands of people, the Morcha leadership has been insisting that the sector be transferred to the regional authority which it plans to control.

Like the planters, the trade union leaders, too, sounded wary. “It is too premature to comment as the Centre has not yet clarified as to whether tea will be with the proposed regional authority or not,” said Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers.

Others, who refused to be quoted, said the handover of the sector to the new set-up might deteriorate the condition of the industry.

“We are not sure but if the regional authority carries the right to levy charges and additional taxes to garner revenue from the industry, there are chances that the sector will suffer. Further, the state government, which is now responsible for the workers as well as the industry, will not listen to our demands any more if its control is transferred to the proposed authority,” a trade union leader said.

“Initially, we feel this issue can trigger tension and violence in the brew belts of the Terai and the Dooars. This will ultimately affect the industry and the workers,” he added.

Source: The Telegraph

Unilever CEO looks to double Indian business

Mumbai: Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, who had reportedly referred to Hindustan Unilever, the Indian outfit of the global FMCG major, as an ‘underperformer’, said he was hoping to double the business in India. But he didn’t specify over what time that could happen. Addressing a press conference on Monday, the Unilever chief, who is understood to be unhappy with the Indian outfit’s performance, said he hoped his ‘sense of urgency’ had been well-received by employees here.

Making light of his reported ’unhappiness,’ Polman said, “You have to be worried about the competition and you have to set the bar higher, but I am looking at the opportunities.”

Referring to the recently introduced challenging compensation plan, Polman said that making more parts of the compensation ‘performance-based’ should make it more motivating for employees.

Polman said Hindustan Unilever would continue to remain competitive in all segments in the marketplace. “We are focused on the consumer and will make sure we are competitive. That’s why we have reacted to the competition in some categories, which is the right thing to do over the long term,” Polman said, adding that HUL products were of superior quality. “The quality of our Rin beats the product of our competition, which has lowered the price,” he said.

Polman observed that the company would grow ‘profitably’ as it invested more to stay in the lead. That apart, the time-to-market, he noted, had crashed while the competitive-intensity had increased. The Unilever chief observed that ‘market development’ and ‘innovation’ would be the key to growth and said the company intended to address all price points to straddle the market.

Nitin Paranjpe, MD and CEO, Hindustan Unilever, pointed out that the company had recently launched a variant of Brooke Bond tea at a price point where it had not been earlier present. Paranjpe also said the company was focusing on channels such as modern trade. Asked why the company’s foods business had seen sluggish growth even on a small base, Polman said there was potential for the foods business and would like to grow it.

Source: Financial Express

UAE route for tea exports

Calcutta, March 28: India is lobbying the United Arab Emirates to ramp up the latter’s tea export to the West Asian countries. The UAE, which is India’s second-largest tea export market after Russia, is the world’s top re-exporter.

“There are countries where direct export is not possible because of regulatory issues and geographical disadvantages. They buy tea from Dubai. This is the reason why India considers West Asia as a key market for export,” an industry expert said. Almost the entire demand of West Asia from India is routed via the UAE.

The UAE plays a key role in international trade because of its location and ability to provide competitive logistic and storage services through the Dubai Tea Trading Centre (DTTC) in Jebel Ali Free Zone, one the most important global tea re-export hubs. The DTTC imports from 35 Asian and African countries.

According to the UAE’s foreign trade ministry, re-exports at $112 million in 2008 account for 72 per cent of the global figure. India exported 24.80 million kg in 2008 and 20.04 million kg in 2009 to the UAE. Early this month, the Tea Board of India had sent a delegation to the Third Global Dubai Tea Forum, to explore opportunities in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, the US and Canada.

Source: The Telegraph

Garden closed after threat

The management of Debpara Tea Estate in Banarhat today put up a notice of suspension of work, a day after an assistant manager was threatened allegedly by a group of workers.

“Around 4.30pm yesterday, assistant manager P. Jha was surrounded by a group of youths at Rangati Busti, a workers’ colony, and was threatened that unless all houses were built anew, no construction would be allowed. The agitators also damaged the pillars that were being built,” said Subrata Saha, the manager. With Debpara, the number of closed gardens in the Dooars stands at 11.

Source: The Telegraph

Dry air aborts squalls

Evening squalls characteristic of the season are absent from the region because of lack of moisture in the air, say weather experts.

“Rains accompanied by lightning are common in the evenings during this time of the year and they usually start by March and extend to April. The thunderstorms occur over vast swathes of the region generally, but they are limited to a few areas in the Jalpaiguri district and the neighbouring Sikkim this time,” said an official of the regional meteorological office in Jalpaiguri.

Tea planters are worried that the first flush production will be hit by the dry spell.

“There has not been enough rainfall since October last year. For the first flush, 2-4 inches of rain are required in December and January. But this year has been unusually dry and humidity, too, is relatively low,” said R. Saha, the project director of the Darjeeling Tea Research and Development Centre in Kurseong.

“We received nearly one inch of rain in mid-February but that’s not enough. If the condition prevails for the next 10 days, then the first flush tea will be severely affected. Some gardens may be irrigated, but most estates are likely to be affected by the dry spell,” added Saha.

The reason cited by weathermen is the absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south.

“These thundershowers are caused by the formation of cumulous and cumulo-nimbus clouds. However, moisture-laden winds from the south, which aid cloud formation, have not yet come. There are other conditions like trough formation and cyclonic circulation necessary to induce squalls. While there is a trough formation (low pressure zone) in the region, the absence of moisture has kept away the squalls,” said the weather official.

“The north-westerly winds that are currently blowing from north and central India contain no moisture and they have made the air dry,” he added.

According to the official, the intensity of rainfall during these thunderstorms usually depends on the vertical development (thickness) of the cloud. However, not less than 10mm of rainfall is usually expected.

Source: The Telegraph

Tea prices to go up from April

With the recent hike in value added tax (VAT) on tea and other food items by the Maharashtra government from 4 per cent to 5 per cent, tea prices will rise further from April 1 this year.

“If 12.5 per cent VAT comes into effect from April 1 this year, tea prices would rise by Rs 20-30 per kg. It would be too harsh for the common man at large at a time when the central government is struggling to bring down food inflation. The lower and medium quality tea priced at Rs 180-200 per kg at present would shoot up to Rs 200-220 per kg,” said Harendra Shah, president of Federation of Tea Traders Association of Maharashtra and chairman of Federation of All India Tea Traders Association.

“Similarly, the premium tea priced at Rs 300-320 per kg presently would go up to Rs 325-350 per kg as well,” Shah said. Tea would cease to be part of Schedule-C from April 1 2010, and would fall under residue head and attract 12.5 per cent VAT from next moth onwards. The association has called for a uniform VAT rate on tea across India, seeking an appropriate announcement in the Maharashtra government’s Budget, whereby the lowest rate of VAT will continue on all essential items of daily consumption till such time that the GST would be implemented. The association has already sent a memorandum to the Finance Minister of the State, the Empowered Committee of Finance Ministers on VAT, the Tea Board and Navi Mumbai Chamber of Commerce.

Source: Indian Express

Jay Shree Tea: Future nos to tell how well sugar foray is

Kolkata-based BK Birla group company Jay Shree Tea & Industries, which is in the businesses of tea, chemicals and fertilisers, is set to diversify into the sugar business. The Rs 400-crore company is acquiring MP Chini Industries, an unlisted sugar company in Bihar.

MP Chini Industries is an integrated sugar company with a capacity of 4600-tonne crush per day (TCD) and having a power generation capacity of six mega watts. Its sugar-manufacturing unit is located in the land-locked region in West Champaran, Bihar. The company has maintained high levels of capacity utilisation (over 95% in ’06-07) and has also maintained a base recovery rate of 9% over the past four years, which is on par with average players in the industry.

However, its long distance from the Kolkata port limits the company’s ability to export sugar or import raw sugar for processing. The company is estimated to close this fiscal year with a profit of Rs 26 crore, earned on a topline of Rs 80 crore.

The sugar industry in Bihar is poised for growth. Oxfam International, a UK-based NGO, has released a report in ’08-09, recognising the potential of Bihar in producing good quality sugar, during its trade fair campaign in the state recently. According to the latest available official data, the sugar industry in the state had already attracted private investments of Rs 4,600 crore in the past one year.

At Rs 112.50 crore, Jay Shree Tea & Industries is acquiring the sugar company at close to one-and-a-half times the revenues of the company. The company is bullish on the agri-commodity business which is why it has diversified into the sugar business. It has already been expanding its tea business for a while now. With tea prices rallying, the company’s stock also witnessed positive action. The stock has vaulted 282% in the past year — significantly outperforming the Sensex’s gain of 85% during the same period.

However, the stock market did not react positively to the company’s acquisition announcement and the stock fell over 8% on Monday. A buyout in the sugar sector at a time when the bullish commodity cycle is turning is not being perceived as the right move. The company’s performance in the forthcoming quarters will be a reflection of how well timed its entry into the sugar business has been.

From The Times of India

Mob sets tea factory on fire after owner ‘shoots teen’

A tea estate on the outskirts of Guwahati turned into a cauldron of violent protest after a boy died when the proprietor fired at villagers who had gathered near his bungalow to protest his alleged attempt to molest a woman this morning.

Police seized a Winchester rifle and a revolver from Mridul Bhattacharjee, the proprietor of Rani tea estate, but struggled to extract him from the estate as villagers went on the rampage demanding that the man be handed to them for street justice.

Security forces fired tear gas shells and wielded the baton for nearly eight hours during which time the villagers relentlessly attacked the estate property, reducing it to ashes.

The largely outnumbered security forces watched helplessly as they were more worried about protecting Bhattacharjee, who had confined himself to his bungalow, which is protected by an electric fence.

The mob burnt the factory, several vehicles, tea bushes and even attacked the animal farm owned by the garden. Several pigs and goats were butchered and charred in the onslaught.

By afternoon, the picturesque Rani tea estate factory area resembled a battle zone with fire and smoke everywhere.

The police finally evacuated Bhattacharjee around 4.30pm after teargas shells dispersed the mob that had been baying for his blood all day.

Trouble began after Bhattacharjee allegedly beat up and molested an NREGA worker, Jogomaya Boro, who was passing through the garden, for trespassing, around 8.30 this morning.

Jogomaya, a resident of Andherijauli village, was late for work and decided to take a short cut through the garden to her work site, about a kilometre from her house.

“She was accosted by the proprietor and was beaten up for entering the garden. Her clothes were also torn by him,” said Dhireswar Boro, secretary of Upardani Taluk Samabai Samiti.

Jogomaya reported the matter to the villagers who went to Bhattacharjee’s bungalow around 9.30am to protest against the ill-treatment.

“He (Bhattacharjee) opened fire on us from inside the house, killing Pradip Murari, a Class VIII student of Upardani High School and injuring four others,” Boro said.

The injured, Katiram Rabha, Suren Boro, Jagdish Boro and Ajoy Rahba, are being treated at Gauhati Medical College Hospital.

The police arrived soon after and confined Bhattacharjee to the bungalow along with his wife and a servant as the crowd went on the rampage, setting fire to the tea factory.

The crowd did not even allow the fire tenders to enter the factory and squatted at the entrance with the boy’s body and demanded that Bhattcharjee be arrested immediately and handed over to them.

All efforts of senior police and district administration officials of Kamrup (rural) and written assurance from the local MLA, Ramendra Narayan Kalita, and deputy commissioner, S.K. Roy to take stringent action against Bhattacharjee, failed to pacify the crowd, and the vandalism continued.

It was around 3.30pm that the police brought Bhattacharjee out of the bungalow, his hands tied with a rope, to prove that he had indeed been arrested.

That, too, failed to appease the crowd which set dry tea bushes along the pathway leading to the bungalow on fire.

Bhattacharjee presented a picture of calm despite the frenzy around.

The only time he reacted was when villagers were beating up a pig.

Finally, the IGP (central western range) Pallab Bhatacharyya, who arrived around 4pm, ordered the final assault of teargas.

The proprietor was then whisked away in a police vehicle under tight security.

Owned by the MKB (Asia) Private Limited, Rani tea estate was certified as organic in 2005.

Another tea estate, Satrupa, owned by the company, is in Tinsukia district.

Shut down tea garden workers promised 50% increase in monthly revenue

Workers of shut tea gardens in the Dooars have been promised 50 per cent increase in the monthly financial assistance in this year’s budget.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, in his budget speech, said money given to the workers of the closed estates under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries scheme would be increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500. The move would benefit 34,527 workers of the industry. He said of the 16 closed gardens in the region, eight were opened through joint initiatives by the state and the Centre. To expedite the reopening of the remaining ones, the state has granted tax and duty relief to both new and existing buyers.

The minister has also announced waiver for education and rural employment cess — charged seven paisa and five paisa respectively on every kilo of tealeaves — in the next financial year (see chart) in the tea estates of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur districts.

Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, while appreciating the decision to increase the monthly assistance, said it was unfortunate that the finance minister evaded two primary issues. “We had asked for continuation of payment of financial assistance to those who have crossed 58 years during the period of closure as the assistance is not paid when they retire. Secondly, he hardly touched on the proposal to provide land rights to the the tea workers,” he said.

The general secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha-run West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, Samir Roy, however, apprehended that the waiver and relief might encourage closure of more estates. “A section of unscrupulous tea planters may take the opportunity and close down estates only to get the benefits of reopening,” he said.

Planters have hailed Dasgupta’s announcement. “It is good to hear that the cess has been waived for another year. This will surely help the tea industry to grow,” said Mohini Das, secretary, Terai Indian Planters’ Association.

But small growers, who account for about 30 per cent of north Bengal’s tea production, were not happy. “We had asked for abolition of the cess in our sector and waited to hear from the government,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the chairman of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “It is disappointing that nothing as such has been spelt out by the minister today.”

From The Telegraph

Sick tea garden reopens in Dooars

Another sick tea garden in Jalpaiguri in Dooars called Bamandanga and Tondoo has reopened with the Ambootia Tea Group, one of the largest producers of Darjeeling tea, taking over the garden.

Earlier, this was one of the gardens in which case, the Tea Board had invoked Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act for taking over the garden and handing it over to a new owner. The garden was owned by Sajjan Agarwal. This garden has a licensed area of 310 hectares for tea cultivation and had outstanding financial liabilities of about Rs. 2 crore which included provident fund liabilities. It owed its banker, United Bank of India, over Rs. 16 crore.

From: The Hindu

Darjeeling tea charms French hoteliers

French hospitality association Relais & Châteaux (R&C) is eyeing a tea estate in Darjeeling — Glenburn — to add to its membership list.

Glenburn was set up by a Scottish planter way back in 1860.

The 1,600-acre estate is by the Kanchenjunga mountain range and houses about 10-12 rooms.

“We are keenly looking at expanding our membership in India. Our group has visited 50-60 properties across locations such as Darjeeling, Udaipur, Fatehgarh, Rajasthan, the Himalayas and Goa. But we are keen on the Darjeeling property and are talking to the owners,” Jaume Tapies, international president of Relais & Châteaux, told The Telegraph.

Relais & Châteaux has 486 members, including hotels and gourmet restaurants, across 58 countries. The group is looking to expand in India and believes it is a “market with immense potential”.

At present, R&C has five hotel members in India. It is looking to bring 15 Indian properties to its fold in the next two to three years.

R&C has both traditional and contemporary hospitality chains as its members, said Tapies. The properties have a maximum room inventory of 29, which is one of R&C’s criterion.

Hoteliers pay an annual fee to become a member of R&C. The fee is determined by the number of rooms a property houses.

The group charges 7,500 euros to lend its brand name to a 10-11 room hotel. It charges 15,000 euros for a 29-room property.

Relais & Châteaux’s interest in the country’s hospitality industry is in sharp contrast with its membership list in neighbouring country China.

“We have been present in China for the last 10 years but have only three members there. But in the last two years in India, we have added five members,” said Tapies. The group had a turnover of 1.3 billion euros in the last calendar year, he said.

“We hope atleast 7 per cent of our total revenues should come from Asia and of this 3 per cent from India,” he said.

R&C has added two properties from the Sujan Luxury Hotels banner — Sher Bagh in Ranthambore and The Serai in Jaisalmer — as its members.

Source: Telegraph India

Darjeeling - A Paradise Found

G Brindha visits Darjeeling to travel on a toy train, savour a cuppa and soak in the splendour of the lofty Kanchenjunga peak.
My sire used to say, “The British have left their legacy not only in their edifices but also in the names of towns and streets.”  Perhaps their anglicised tongues could not pronounce the Indian names. But, this twist made them more stylish and aroused some curiosity. Thiruvananthapuram became Trivandrum, Kanyakumari — Cape Camorin, Shaml — Shimla and Udhagamandalam became Ooty. To add to it, Darjeeling was called Dorjeling.
I have three reasons to visit this place. Firstly, because it’s a hill station and is home to a toy train, which was immortalised in the 1970s blockbuster film (I call it a love poem) ‘Aradhana’, in the song ‘mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu’. I watched it my school days and ever since it has been my cherished dream to tour this place. Secondly, the mountains in Darjeeling and lastly, Darjeeling tea (although I am not a habitual tea drinker).

The train journey from Chennai to NJP (nearest railway station) is arduous. Hence I skip it and decide to fly. From the Bagdogra airport, I proceed by road. After three hours, I reach my destination. The first thing, which strikes me is its alien environment. The contemporary culture and the Mongoloid faces makes me wonder whether it is part of West Bengal. Everywhere I find slogans of Gorkhaland and signboards of Gorka Hill Council.

The architecture of the entire region gives credence to this thought. Our hotel, is a century old beauty, categorised as one of the oldest and finest. It is also one of the several colonial remains turned into a hotel.  The resort is very close to the ‘chowrasta’ — the town square. It has a manicured garden, which offers great views. Owing to its proximity, we limber up to ‘chowrasta’ on the first day itself. It is lined up with shops, restaurants, curio shops and hawkers. Ponywallahs wait for us. In Darjeeling pony-trekking is the best mode of transport as vehicles are neither allowed nor reachable to majority of places. (this includes the renowned Mahakali Temple and Bhutia Bustia Monastery)

The Kanchenjunga range can be sighted from almost all places in Darjeeling. Cafeteria seatings, sitouts on the ‘chowrasta’, the mall and hotel rooms; all are positioned to get the stunning views of one of the world’s most beautiful ranges. They appear like huge cakes with oodles of icing. “Tomorrow you can have a view, which will surpass all this,” avers our chauffeur.

Architecture and spiritualism
Next day’s wake up call comes at 3.30 am. (The proviso is that we should be there before peep of the day). Swathed in winter clothes we sally for Tiger hills. This is the highest point in Darjeeling. It seems the whole lot of tourists in cavalcades make a beeline for this point. The place is overcrowded with people braving the chill. But we ignore the throngs and concentrate on the spectacle. As the first rays of the sun strike the mountains, their white snow-capped peaks don a warm pinkish blue hue. A breathtaking sight.
On our return, the car stops at Ghoom before a monastery. Yiga Choling Gompa, popularly known as Ghoom Monastery, contains the images of Buddhist deities and lamas, a prominent one being the 15ft statue of Maitreya. Also worth a visit is the Dhirdam Mandir, fashioned in the style of Pasupathinath temple of Kathmandu, which showcases the culmination of Gorkhali architecture and is located just below the Darjeeling railway station.

The post-lunch session involves a visit to a park of exotica. Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park (established in 1958) is home to myriad rare fauna. It is home to Himalayan animals including Siberian tigers, red panda and the Tibetan wolf. The best part of this park is the snow leopard breeding centre. Further above (top of the knoll known as Birch Hill) is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), an internationally reputed mountaineering establishment. Founded under the guidance of Nehru, it had Tenzing Norgay as its director for many years. It also houses an excellent museum on mountain lore, specimens of flora and fauna, traditional attires of Himalayan tribes and a full-fledged school for mountaineers. The Everest Museum (located in the same campus) chronicles the expeditions to the world’s summit.

Another stop is Mirik, about two hours drive from Darjeeling is a perfect place to take a jaunt. Darjeeling is synonymous with tea since time immemorial. Hence, a tour to this hilly retreat will never be complete without visiting a tea estate. Just two kms away from Mirik, our cab steers through a big estate. The mounds, hillocks and all rises are draped in emerald green. The verdancy is dotted with tea pluckers. We are in the midst of an estate, famous for Olong tea. The visit to the factory ends with a cup of ‘garam chai’.
The final day we allot for shopping and a ride on the toy train. We decide to commence it with purchase of tea (for home). Where to buy it? Well, guide books, suggestions by locals, lead us straight to Nathmull’s. Later we realised that the tea here is extremely expensive — Rs 13000 per kg! Other varieties start from Rs 3000.

Eat and shop
The toy train is in integral part of peoples’  lives in Darjeeling. The town seems to start its day as the first choo-choo puffs out of the station. It starts from the heart of the town and whistles past busy markets, flats and apartments. As the engine runs very slow you will be excited to see rail cars (with heads peeping out) running along with your cab. “I become restless if I don’t hear the chug of the carriage even for a day,” says a local.
After the ride, we return to the main bazaar for shopping. It offers items like wind chimes, brass statues and silver jewellery. Later, we have our lunch at Glenary’s the most famous confectioner in the north-east (also has continental cuisine). The pastries are really delectable. Our kids round it off with a creamy ice cream at Supersoft Parlour.

Quick Bites
Momos, thukpa, waiwai (a form of thick noodles either dampened with soup or served dry), churpees - local chewing gums made out of cow or yak milk.
 Also worth trying is chhang (made from millet) and tongba - a local beer.

Darjeeling Tea workers association cry for daily wage increment

The CPRM-affiliated union for tea garden workers in the hills has demanded an interim increment of 33 per cent in their daily wage.

K.B. Subba, general secretary of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union, said given the rise in food prices, the workers were finding it hard to make their ends meet.

“According to the labour department, New Delhi, the minimum daily wage in Sikkim was Rs 85, Rs 89 in Karnataka, Rs 87 in Uttar Pradesh, Rs 71 in Tamil Nadu, Rs 81 in Kerala and Rs 73 in Jharkhand for 2006-07. But workers in the hills are getting only Rs 62.50,” said Subba.

An agreement on hike in the wages of tea garden workers had last been reached on August 23, 2008.

“We demand an interim increment of 33 per cent of the current wage not only in the hills but in the Terai and the Dooars also,” said Subba.

According to the union, the second largest in the hills, there are three lakh workers in 277 gardens in north Bengal, of whom 55,000 are in the hills.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association, had recently said: “The industry is in trouble. While the production has come down, labour strength of 55,000 has not gone down. Wages, too, have increased by almost 20 per cent in a decade.”