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School barricades ‘illegal’ garden plot
- Management says land belongs to institution

Jalpaiguri, Aug. 16: The members of a school management committee today barricaded a portion of a tea garden and forbade staff from entering the plot, alleging that the estate owner had grabbed the land and refused to vacate it for nearly two decades.

The headmaster of Garalbari High School, Abhijit Ghosh, and the secretary of the school management committee, Janab Ali, led the group of about 25 people to the plot about 800 metres from the school building, and planted bamboo sticks to mark out 15 bighas of the garden around 11.30am.

Ghosh said the school, established in 1948, had been donated 24 bighas “in 1969 by Bhelku Roy and Kahanprabha Roy, two local residents”.

The school had allowed farmers to cultivate 15 bighas of the total 24 bighas on the condition that they would give half their produce to the school.

According to Ghosh, in 1992, Calcutta-based Kailash Agarwal started a small tea garden on the 15 bighas. “We have called Agarwal for discussions to get back the land several times in the past 20 years but we have not been successful. All the relevant land documents proving that the land belongs to the school are with us,” the headmaster said.

Ali, who is a local Congress leader and was part of the team that went to the garden today, said for the past 20 years the school management committee was dominated by the CPM. “The CPM members did nothing and the land remained illegally occupied. Now that a new government is in power, we marked out the occupied 15 bighas. We have warned those working in the garden not to pluck leaves or do anything else,” Ali said.

“The previous school management never filed any complaint about this illegal occupation. We are drafting one and will hand it to the district magistrate and the district land and land revenue officer tomorrow,” Ali said.

Agarwal, whose garden is called Greenland Tea Garden, said he had done nothing illegal. “I have not forcibly taken any land to set up a small tea garden. The land was bought by me from locals,” Agarwal said over phone.

Among those who went to reclaim the land was the district president of the Kisan Khet Majdoor Congress, Girija Shankar Roy. “Till the person who has been running this tea garden returns the land to the school, it will be under the control of the school management committee,” Roy said.