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Baton on tea workers

Jaigaon, Oct. 12: Police tonight resorted to lathi-charge and tear gas burst to disperse workers of Dalsinghpara Tea Estate who were blocking the Saarc Road near here to demand Puja bonus.

The police used force to chase away the labourers when some cars and an Assam State Transport Corporation bus returning from Jaigaon were stoned around 8pm.

The law enforcers said it was difficult to say if the vehicles had been attacked by the workers or local people who had gathered at the spot in a drunken state.

The agitators numbering more than 500 disrupted traffic on the Hashimara-Jaigaon road two times today to protest the management’s failure to disburse the Puja bonus. Traffic was halted for more than eight hours because of the agitation in front of Torsa-Dalsinghpara Club, 7km from here.

The labourers began blocking the road leading to Bhutan at 8am. They withdrew the agitation at noon after the Jalpaiguri district administration told them that the management would deposit the bonus in bank by afternoon.

Garden manager Subhasis Kar said: “We need Rs 6.5 lakh to pay the bonus at the rate of 19 per cent to our 2,300 workers. But till now, we have received only Rs 4.1 lakh. I cannot say when the entire amount will be credited to the account so that we can distribute the bonus to the workers and the staff.”

A huge police force, including woman constables, armed with lathis and tear gas, were present at the spot during the agitation. Subdivisional police officer of Alipurduar David Lepcha, block development officer of Kalchini R.R. Sundas and other officials also reached the spot.

A meeting was held at the club between the officials and representatives of different trade unions to sort out the issue. The workers decided to lift the blockade around 12.30pm when the BDO assured the union leaders that the management of the Octavious Tea and Industries Ltd that owns the Dalsinghpara garden would send the pending amount by today.

However, as the funds did not arrive, the workers resumed the road block at 4.30pm.

Rita Lohar, one of the agitating workers, had said earlier in the day that all of them were waiting for the bonus. “The Puja has already arrived and the company has distributed bonus to the workers of three other gardens owned by it. We are not going to withdraw the blockade and if need be, we will face bullets.”

At 8.40pm, traffic from both sides resumed amid a heavy police presence.

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