The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No buyers for ownership plan

Siliguri, March 22: CPM leaders might be keen about getting Ratan Tata to open his car manufacturing unit at Singur, but their counterparts in Jalpaiguri have shot down the group’s proposal to change garden workers into shareholders of a tea company.

According to a proposal mooted by Tata Tea last year, workers in the four gardens owned by it in the region (see chart) and 20 in Assam were to have been made shareholders of a new company in return for a payment of Rs 8,000 each. The new company — Amalgamated Tea Limited — would have been formed as a subsidiary of Tata Tea.

The CPM leaders, however, have straightaway rejected the proposal. “We apprehend that such a change in workers’ status might make it difficult for them to avail of benefits under the Plantations Labour Act and other subsidies like ration,” said Chanu Dey, the Malbazar zonal committee secretary of the CPM and a district Citu leader, today.

Tata Tea issued a notice in its gardens last Tuesday indicating that the new company with a capital of Rs 3.6 billion will start functioning from April 1. The announcement led to protests in Borjan, one of the estates owned by Tata tea.

“(But here) the workers appeared disinterested. We considered the problems too and intimated the company authorities,” Dey added.

According to the proposal, workers would have 21 per cent of the total shares in the new entity while Tata Tea would retain 19 per cent. Another 20 per cent of the shares would be held by organisations like the International Finance Corporation, Infrastructure Leasing and Finance Services and Globally Managed Services. The remaining 40 per cent would be allocated to banks, which have local branches.

Considering the fact that there might be objections, the Tata Tea authorities had proposed interest free loans to workers, payable over seven years, to enable workers to become shareholders. The money would be deducted from their wages during fortnightly payments.

Officials at the Dooars branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA), which represents Tata Tea in north Bengal, confirmed their member’s plan to start the new enterprise from April 1. “But have not received any notice so far,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the DBITA.

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