The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wage hostage for 19 hrs

Thanjhora Tea Estate (near Khoribari), Oct. 21: Seven managerial staff members of Thanjhora Tea Estate, around 30 km from Siliguri, were reportedly beaten up by workers and subjected to humiliation last night, owing to delay in payment of wages.

Garden manager Hemant Popli and six assistant managers went without food or a wash as irate workers of the estate took them hostage for over 19 hours. Police finally rescued them around 1 pm today.

'As we queued up at the factory office for the fortnightly wage, we were told that we would not be paid before Monday,' a worker said.

Popli said the management had to ask the workers to wait since the bank draft for the workers' salary, which comes from Calcutta every 15 days, had not reached yesterday. 'The draft came in today,' he said.

But the workers claimed that they were penniless. 'We don't even have 1 kg of rice at home,' Bishnu Baraik, another worker said.

The drama started around 6 pm yesterday, when the irate workers entered the office, situated 10 km from Khoribari, and started ransacking it. They smashed the doors and windows with bricks and beat up the officers. They even reportedly garlanded the officers with shoes and confined them to the office.

It was only in the morning that the police, camping outside for the entire night, could break the cordon set up by workers. Rapid Action Force was pressed into action as police officials, including deputy superintendent of police Indra Chakravorty and Bagdogra circle inspector P.K. Dutta, set to resolve the deadlock. 'We initiated a dialogue between the two parties,' Chakravorty said. 'The workers were pacified after the management agreed to clear their wages today.'

However, none of the leaders of the two trade unions ' Citu and West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha (WBCMS) ' were around since yesterday. 'Our leaders have sold themselves to the management. They were told that the payment would be delayed, but they did not inform us. They even stayed away during the protest,' Baraik said.

Some workers, angry with the union leaders' reported apathy, today ransacked the house of Shambhu Pandey, the WBCMS secretary. Pandey, blamed the management for yesterday's incident. 'If they can pay today, why could not they do so yesterday' he said. He allegedly added that the Citu had conducted the agitation.

Jibitesh Sarkar, the Citu district secretary, however, denied the allegation and added that they have started an inquiry, the report of which will come in tomorrow.

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