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Cachar planter held over PF arrears

Silchar, July 31: In a first for Cachar tea industry, a senior planter and his brother were arrested for alleged non-payment of provident fund dues.

Hasmukhbhai Patel, 66, the residential director of the Calcutta-headquartered Doloo Tea Company (India) Ltd, and his younger brother Harishbhai Patel, a director of the company, were arrested and produced before the Cachar deputy commissionerís Bakijai (dues recovery office) branch here yesterday. They were freed after they pledged to pay an individual bail bond of Rs 50 lakh each by August 8.

Police sources said the gardenís provident fund arrears between 2000 and 2008 had amounted to Rs 7 crore, including the principal of Rs 3.68 crore. They said the action was taken after the Citu-affiliated Cachar Cha Mazdoor Union lodged a complaint with deputy commissioner H.K. Dev Mahanta last month. The union alleged that many of the 2,000 workers and employees of Doloo, one of the biggest estates in the tea-growing south Assam located 14km from here, had been denied post-retirement PF benefits by the management since 2000.

A district administration official today said the Assam Tea Plantation Provident Fund (ATPPF) authorities had drawn the companyís attention to the non-deposit of PF arrears several times.

CCMU president Chunilal Bhattacharjee also said the management did not pay heed to their requests, forcing them to move the Cachar Bakijai office under Section 77 (11) of the Bengal Public Demand Recovery Act, 1913 for the realisation of dues of the workers. Many of them have already died of poverty.

Sources in the Cachar district administration said the Doloo authorities had paid Rs 15 lakh in two installments of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 5 lakh since November last year, following repeated pleas by the ATPPF.

The officials of the company could not be contacted.

Sources in the tea industry here said this one-time cash-spinning tea estate had of late fallen on bad days because of mismanagement and squabb-ling among Hasmukhbhai Patelís siblings, who mostly comprise the management, to gain control of the garden.

Citu sources here alleged that the mismanagement reached its nadir when Doloo Tea Company leased out the chore of plucking green tea leaves and the operations of its processing factory to a Calcutta-based firm, Eastern Tea Company, in 2008.

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