Silchar, July 20: Tension has been simmering in a prime tea plantation in south Assam’s Cachar district for the past three days after the management declared a lockout following labour unrest.

The assistant labour commissioner of the state government in south Assam district, A. Howbam, has scheduled a tripartite meeting in his office here on Friday to restore normality in Kallinecherra tea estate, 45km west of this town.

Soumendu Mukherji, the secretary of the Barak Valley branch of the Tea Association of India (TAI), said at least three incidents of intransigence of workers over the past six months had prodded the management of Kallinecherra to clamp an indefinite lockout in the garden with effect from Monday, which is pay-day in the garden.

He said the latest showdown between the management and the workers took place on July 15 with the workers demonstrating in the office of garden manager A.R. Murya against the alleged “harassment and intemperate behaviour” of a senior official holding the post of tillababu in the garden’s Digarkhal division.

The assistant general secretary of Cachar Cha Sramik Union, Dinanath Baroi, today said the tillababu, Kirit Mohan Bhattacharjee, had provoked around 800 workers by asking at least five women workers, under the leadership of a tea plucker, Anita Bhumij, to do some work other than their daily duty of plucking tea leaves. The workers went to the manager’s bungalow and then to his office to lodge a protest. When the manager refused to meet them, the labourers ransacked both these establishments and damaged other garden property as well.

Soon after the workers’ protest, the authorities rushed a posse of policemen to the garden as the tension was escalating.

Baroi alleged that instead of solving the impasse, the management took recourse to lockout, which meant that the workers would be denied their wages and food rations.

The meeting called by the assistant labour commissioner will be attended, besides Howbam, by representatives of CCSU, the only recognised tea workers’ union in Barak districts, the management of the garden and TAI.

The stalemate in this profit-making garden comes at a time when this plantation has started reaping profits since 2008. It had slid into a phase of uncertainty for five years starting 2002 because of the recession in the tea industry.

The tea estate, located along NH44 on way to Meghalaya, is a property of the Calcutta-headquartered Loobah Tea Company Ltd. The annual output of the garden, which sprawls on 460 hectares, is pegged at about six lakh kg of CTC tea.

The Telegraph