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Notice on estates, action after reply

Siliguri, Dec. 14: The Siliguri Tea Auction Committee (STAC) has decided to serve showcause notices to the Bijoynagar, Mogulkata and Subhashini tea estates ' all owned by Bijoynagar Tea Company (BTC) ' for allegedly duping four brokers into putting up 'non existent' tea for auction.

The committee has decided to first listen to the estates' account of the incident before deciding upon punitive measures against the brokers accused of selling those consignments of tea from the three gardens last month.

At a governing body meeting of the STAC yesterday, the buyers' and sellers' lobbies demanded that exemplary punishment ' like suspending them for at least a week from Siliguri Tea Auction Centre ' be handed out to the brokers . Though the STAC has agreed in principle to take measures against the brokers, it has stalled its decision till the three gardens properly explained their roles in the incident.

'At the moment, we have decided to serve showcause notices to the gardens concerned,' an STAC source said. 'The buyers and sellers have asked for a temporary suspension of the guilty brokers. But on the latter's request, we have decided to hear the planters' version of the story before taking any step.'

Parkon, Care Tea Pvt. Ltd, Associated Brokers and Tea Champagne are the brokers accused of selling tea worth more than Rs 30 lakh, which was ostensibly stocked at Siliguri Tea Warehouse, also owned by the BTC. The buyers saw red when they did not get their orders delivered and those who got their supplies, found that they were of much inferior quality compared to the samples put up for bidding. The arrival and weighment reports (AWR) provided by the warehouse, on the basis of which the brokers had catalogued the tea, were found to be false.

According to auction rules, tea can be put up for bidding only after the entire lot has reached the warehouse. On receiving the AWR, the broker is expected to inspect the samples before entering them in their catalogues.

Immediately after the incident came to the fore, the STAC suspended operation at the warehouse and served showcause notices on the four brokers and the warehouse-keeper. On November 24, the committee decided not to allow any tea from the three estates to be put up for bidding till the consignments were actually stocked at the warehouse. The estates have been given a month's time for it.

The issue has also been brought to the notice of the Tea Board.

'Operation at the warehouse has been suspended and the brokers, in accordance with the auction committee rules, have paid 30 per cent compensation to buyers,' a STAC source said. 'We will decide on further steps at the next governing body meeting on January 11.'

'The garden-owners are ready with their explanation,' said Mohini Das, the secretary of the Terai Indian Planters' Association, of which the BTC is a member.

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