The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘New owner’ visits Bharnobari

Bharnobari (Alipurduar)/ Siliguri, June 21: Bharnobari Tea Estate had an unexpected visitor today.

Om Prakash Agarwal, a tea exporter, accompanied by Philip Khalko, the saha-sabhadhipati of the Jalpaiguri zilla parishad, went around the garden, located 42 km from Alipurduar town, and inspected the factory for an hour from 10 am. He also talked to the office staff about the outstanding dues (see chart) and later sent two of his employees to check the tea bushes.

Agarwal is being touted as the new owner of the garden that is expected to reopen during Union minister Jairam Ramesh’s visit to the Dooars tea belt on June 29.

“The garden will be officially handed over to Agarwal on June 29. This was decided recently at a Tea Board meeting attended by the Union minister of state for commerce. Agarwal said he would talk to all the trade unions before opening the garden,” Khalko said after the garden tour.

Tea Board officials also confirmed Agarwal’s interest in the garden, though they were not sure about the date of the official handover.

“The present owner of the garden has decided to sell it and Om Prakash Agarwal is the prospective buyer. Agarwal is based in Calcutta and is the second largest Indian exporter of tea,” Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta. “In case the two sides do not settle the deal by June 29, there are chances that they would sign an agreement on that day. The garden could then be formally opened later.”

Garden workers, who have witnessed at least 88 deaths since the closure two years ago, however, seemed apprehensive about the new development. “We have heard that the new owner has come to the garden and that he will open it on the 29th. But we are not sure whether he will pay our dues that have accumulated over the years,” said Rabi Baraik, a resident of the Kothim line.

Redbank Tea Estate, the other garden looking to reopen during Ramesh’s visit, remained mired in uncertainty. The garden has gone into liquidation. To reopen it formally, owner Rabin Paul needs to get a stay order on the liquidation process from Calcutta High Court.

“We are in touch with Paul who is trying to get the order. If it doesn’t come through, the minister will visit the garden but it cannot start functioning,” Banerjee said.

The chairman, who met state ministers and officials about the reopening yesterday, felt that a concerted Centre-state effort could do the trick.

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