The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ramesh forced to stall visit
- Chief secretary’s request puts minister on backfoot

Siliguri, May 16: The Bengal government’s inability to provide adequate security to Union minister Jairam Ramesh has put a question mark on the reopening of the closed Surendranagar Tea Estate.

The Dooars garden, which has been closed since 2004, was scheduled to start operations in the presence of Ramesh and estate owner Rabin Paul. It would be the first of six such gardens that were identified for reopening at a Tea Board meeting, convened on May 11 by the Union minister.

“I was to reach Jalpaiguri on May 17. All arrangements had been made. But at 5.30 pm on May 15, I was informed by the Tea Board chairman that the chief secretary of West Bengal had called him to request me to postpone my visit to Jalpaiguri,” reads the press statement issued by Ramesh in New Delhi today. “The chief secretary said the state government apprehends trouble and that the presence of the owner along with me could create law and order problems. In deference to this request from the state government, conveyed by Amit Kiran Deb, I have accordingly put off my visit to Jalpaiguri for the reopening of Surendranagar tea estate for the time being,” it added.

The minister’s failure to make it to the garden to the garden tomorrow, however, has failed to deter Paul, who has decided to go ahead with the reopening.

“Although I myself will not go to the garden tomorrow, I have already arranged for rations to be distributed among the permanent workers of the garden. I have also issued a letter authorising Ramesh Lakra, posted at the Dharanipur tea estate at the moment, to act as manager for Surendranagar Tea Estate from tomorrow,” said Paul here this evening. “I am serious about running the garden and have instructed workers and employees to resume their work from tomorrow.”

Most of the workers in the garden have reportedly decided to abide by Paul’s instructions.

“The workers of the garden have decided to join work from tomorrow and the green leaves they pick up will be delivered to the owner’s office,” said Pradeep Mullick, a leader of the Intuc-backed National Union of Plantation Workers, that enjoys the support of a majority of the garden labourers. “However, workers are apprehending trouble from Citu activists from the adjoining Red Bank Tea Estate (also owned by Paul), who control the operations and maintenance committee in Surendranagar.”

In another development today, members of Nagarik Mancha, a social rights group from Calcutta, and some human rights activists alleged that a section of residents of the closed Samsing tea estate were trying to build a satellite township in the garden on the lines of Chandmoni Tea Estate here.

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