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August agitation for Chattrey and tea

Darjeeling, Aug. 10: A series of strikes and agitation programmes have been lined up in the hills for August, including a 12-hour shutdown on the 22nd and a tea strike tomorrow.

While the August 22-bandh has been called by the CPRM, the call for the tea strike to protest against the planters’ refusal to accept proposed wages for workers is from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Going by its earlier assurances to keep the hills strike-free till Pujas for tourists, the Morcha has promised that tomorrow’s protest will not spill out of the gardens.

Bimal Gurung’s party, however, said it has got nothing to do with the 12-hour shutdown on August 22. “The CPRM has been observing this day for several years and this time around we will not interfere in any way,” a central committee member of the Morcha said.

The bandh has been called by the youth wing of the CPRM to mark Betrayal Day.

“It was on this day in 1988 that Subash Ghisingh had signed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council accord which sealed the fate of the demand for a separate state. We have decided to protest against the Betrayal Day through a general strike. The strike has also been called in support of Gorkhaland,” said D.S. Bomzom, the spokesperson for the CPRM.

The bandh is also a demand for the speedy trial of Chattrey Subba, who has been accused of masterminding the assassination attempt on Ghisingh in February 2001 and has been lodged in Jalpaiguri District Correctional Home since then.

“We want the trial to be completed as soon as possible. It is unjust to lock up someone for seven years without completion of a trial,” said Bomzom. The token strike in gardens tomorrow has been called by the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, a Morcha affiliate, which has also lined up several agitation programmes.

“We will start a 24-hour relay hunger strike in the gardens from August 13 after which a fast-unto-death will begin from the 16th,” said Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the union. “The agitation will not spill out of the gardens.”

The union has also decided to stop the garden managements from lifting made-tea from August 16 as part of its protest against the failure of the wage revision meeting held in Calcutta on Friday.

Industry sources said the gardens in the hills currently have a stock of 2.2 lakh kg of made tea. The meeting, which was called by the state labour department, failed to break the deadlock despite seven rounds of talks since July 1. The revised wages were supposed to have been implemented from April this year.

Labour unions from across the state are demanding an increase of Rs 15 in the daily wage of garden workers to be spread over a period of three years. The planters, however, have refused to agree to the hike. The current wage of permanent garden workers in the hills is Rs 53.90 per day.

On July 30, the Morcha chief had assured the Darjeeling Gorkha Hotel Owners’ Association that his party would not “disturb” the festivities. “Puja is an important festival when a large number of tourists come to Darjeeling,” Gurung had said.

The same assurance was repeated on August 6 when the Morcha told tourism minister Manab Mukherjee that it will refrain from calling strikes during the festival season, although it did not rule out the possibility of holding rallies and dharnas. “The relaxation is for the festival season and it stays. The tea strike has nothing to do with it,” Binay Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha, said today.

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