The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Some wait & watch, others relax

Siliguri, May 13: The announcement that five of the 14 closed gardens in the Dooars will resume operations by July has evoked mixed reactions in the tea industry.

While some stakeholders have adopted a wait-and-watch policy, others are appreciating the role of Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, who made the announcement in Calcutta on Thursday.

Rabin Paul, the chairman-director of Surendranagar Tea Estate at Banarhat, 120 km from here, falls in the second category. Paul, who will be the first in the Dooars to reopen a closed garden, will take charge of his estate in the presence of Ramesh on May 17.

After being thwarted by Citu supporters last week from entering the garden, Paul is now waiting for D-Day.

“I had the opportunity to brief the minister who appeared to be an attentive listener,” Paul said today. “He immediately instructed the district magistrate (of Jalpaiguri) to make necessary arrangements and said he would be at the garden gates on the specified date. This is indeed an exemplary act, which would encourage other planters as well.”

Surendragar has been the focus of attention for quite sometime. Last week, Citu supporters from neighbouring Redbank Estate prevented Paul from entering Surendranagar, which has a majority of Intuc supporters. Redbank, too, is owned by Paul. The district administration, which failed to provide any escort to Paul despite a high court order, has now set up police camps at the garden.

“The minister expressed surprise when I pointed out the highhandedness of a trade union. He insisted that Citu leaders, too, should be present at the reopening programme. We have already instructed workers to arrange a befitting welcome for the minister,” he said.

Some trade union leaders are as optimistic as Paul. “We appreciate the way Ramesh addressed the issue,” said Aloke Chakravorty, the joint general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers. “He adopted the strategy of inviting stakeholders and discussing each closed garden. We don’t understand why the state government could not convene such meetings and waited for the Centre’s intervention instead. Such inaction is bound to raise doubts about the sincerity of the state to reopen the estates,” the trade union leader said.

However, labour leaders like Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers — an umbrella organisation of trade unions — reacted differently. “It is definitely good news, but unless all the gardens re-open and run for a few months, we cannot relax,” Dey said. “Several issues, including workers’ dues, are still pending and have to be sorted out.”

Dey also said nothing good has come out of meetings at Kanthalguri, Ramjhora and Dekhlapara gardens, the leases of which have been cancelled. “The state could not present any buyer,” he said. “The deadlock still persists as nothing specific has been decided.”

Representatives from planters’ community have sought more help from the Centre. “Along with the closed gardens, there are some sick estates too. The Centre should extend some relief to these gardens as well,” said N.K. Basu, the convener of the state committee of Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations.

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