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Take-over drive hits legal hurdle

Siliguri, March 12: The owner of Chinchula Tea Estate has filed a case in Calcutta High Court against the Centre’s decision to acquire the garden invoking Section 16(E) of the Tea Act.

Of the 13 closed gardens in the Dooars, the Bengal government was entrusted with the responsibility of acquiring and reopening Kanthalguri and Ramjhora while the Centre was to have taken charge of the remaining 11.

“Cases have been filed by sundry creditors, including bankers and the provident fund department, against six gardens. As a result we cannot acquire them,” said G. Boriah, the director (tea development) of the Tea Board of India.

“Of the remaining five, the managements of Bharnobari, Sikarpur & Bhandapur and Dheklapara found prospective investors by themselves and negotiations are on. The remaining two — Chinchula and Bamandanga-Tondu — didn’t have any problems as such and we invited expressions of interest from potential buyers.”

The board fixed March 5 as the final date for submission of bids. The management of Chinchula moved court, challenging the decision to invoke the Tea Act to acquire the gardens. “The process has suffered a setback as we cannot go ahead without obtaining permission from the court,” said Boriah.

Regarding Bamandanga-Tondu, which currently does not have such problems, the board is planning to adopt a go-slow policy. “Our priority is to get though these legal hurdles. Other processes like scrutinising the bids, ascertaining the value and finalising the owner would then be carried out,” Boriah added.

Tea Board officials, however, have conducted verification of assets in these two gardens. “The machinery is there but the plantations need immediate care,” Amal Roy Choudhury, deputy director of the Tea Board in Siliguri, said. However, there seems to be some positive development for Kanthalguri and Ramjhora.

“The bids for these gardens have been scrutinised, the bidders have been interviewed and final recommendations have been sent to the state government,” an administrative official of Jalpaiguri said.

Union minister of state for commerce and industries Jairam Ramesh admitted that the Chinchula development has been a setback for the acquisition drive. “We had apprehended such impediments. Nevertheless, we are seeking legal advice,” he said over phone from Delhi.

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