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Ultimatum to gardens
- Tea estates told to accept relief package or face takeover

Siliguri, July 8: The Tea Board has issued an open-or-per-ish diktat to owners of 14 closed gardens in the Dooars.

At a meeting in Calcutta yesterday, board officials made it clear that gardens which fail to reopen within a month will be acquired by the Centre before being handed over to prospective investors.

“They could accept a package, which includes waivers and sharing of interest designed to ease their liabilities, or face legislative measures,” Jairam Ramesh, the junior Union commerce and industries minister, told The Telegraph over the phone from Delhi.

“The board officials have given the details of the scheme not only to the owners of closed tea estates but their bankers as well.”

The minister said a notification — declaring that in case the owners fail to reopen their estates within a month, the Centre would acquire them under Sections 16 (D) and (E) of the Tea Act — will be issued in a day or two.

Section 16 (D) says the Centre can take over the management of a tea estate and give it to another entrepreneur after an inquiry into the reasons behind closure.

Under Section 16 (E), the Union government may do the same but without an inquiry, if the garden remains closed for three months or more.

Commerce and industries ministry sources said if the laws are invoked, talks would be held with the state government to ensure that the new owners face no problem in running the gardens.

The owners of the closed gardens admitted receiving an ultimatum. “Now, we have to respond to the package. We’ve been told that we must open our gardens within a month or face the consequences,” said Rabin Paul, the owner of Redbank tea estate.

He was quick to point out the problems preventing the resumption of work. “The workforce remains the same as it was when the crisis started in 2000. We can’t retrench anybody but production has come down drastically. It’s tough to strike a balance between income and expenditure.”

Union leaders welcomed the move. “It proves that the Centre is keen to open the estates,” said Samir Roy, the general secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha. “We hope that all the gardens will reopen within a short time.”

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