The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minister disappoints, gardens still shut

Bharnobari Tea Estate (Alipurduar), June 28: Jairam Ramesh thinks Bengal’s “violent and militant political culture” has come in the way of reopening the closed tea gardens of the Dooars.

The Union minister of state for commerce and industry has blamed the “squabbling” trade unions for the mess.

The central minister had said yesterday that during his three-day tour of the Dooars he was optimistic about reopening at least two of the 14 closed estates. Today, it was evident that none would reopen.

“It is because of the differences among trade unions that workers are suffering. Political culture in Bengal is too militant and violent. The trade unions should unite and not squabble over petty issues,” said Ramesh while addressing a crowd in front of the Intuc office in Hasimara, before setting off for Bharnobari Tea Estate, 1 km away. He had come from Chalsa this morning.

Congress leaders of Jalpaiguri district, however, feel that Ramesh’s appeals to trade unions to unite are “preposterous”. “I have explained to the minister that such a thing is not possible here. The idea is preposterous. As a central minister, he should realise the ground realities,” said Biswaranjan Sarkar, the president of the Jalpaiguri district committee of the Congress.

At Bharnobari, the disappointment of the workers was palpable. The garden has been closed for almost two years and Ramesh had promised to bring in a new owner today.

“But nothing of that sort happened. Instead, we have been told to wait for a few more weeks. Last evening, too, the minister had said the garden would open, but we wonder what happened in one night,” said Lalita Toppo, a worker of Bharnobari.

Yesterday, on his way to Chalsa from Bagdogra Airport, the minister had said he was confident that Bharnobari and Redbank would reopen during his stay.

The new owner of Bharnobari, Om Prakash Agarawal has apparently asked for some time from Ramesh. Redbank, on the other hand, is under “liquidation”, a fact admitted by the minister today.

Kalchini, the next garden Ramesh visited today, is also not going to reopen on July 15, as scheduled earlier.

Tomorrow, the minister will declare a financial relief package for closed tea gardens along with the Special Purpose Tea Fund for those that are open. Under the package for closed estates, the Centre will waive around Rs 3 crore that the gardens have taken as loans from the tea board as also a fine of Rs 1.5 crore for defaulting on provident fund.

The minister also visited Chamurchi, which is expected to start functioning under a workers’ cooperative soon. Ramesh, however, said to get his approval, the trade unions must first send him an undertaking stating that they have agreed on one cooperative.

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