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Estate crisis talks tomorrow

Jorhat, Dec. 16: The management of Dilli Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district and representatives of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) are scheduled to sit for talks on Tuesday to end the impasse in the garden arising out of the lockout declared yesterday.

The lockout was declared after an executive of the garden, under Namrup police station, was allegedly assaulted by a group of labourers on Thursday night. All the six executives of the garden left on Friday after its assistant manager Subrata Baruah was allegedly attacked by a group of about 40 labourers at his bungalow. They reportedly damaged some windowpanes of the office of the manager too.

The garden, which has about 271 hectares of plantation with a factory belonging to Dhunseri Petrochem and Tea Ltd, is a member of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association (Abita). Over a thousand labourers, including casual workers, are employed in the garden.

Govardhan Lohar, secretary of the Naharkotia branch of the ACMS, the largest and oldest tea workers’ organisation in the state, told this correspondent today that he had appealed to the management and Abita officials to open the estate at the earliest by holding discussion with the ACMS. He said Abita officials had told him that a meeting to resolve the deadlock would be held in Dibrugarh on Tuesday.

“What has happened is unfortunate and the act of violence is condemnable. Let both sides sit for talks and move forward,” Lohar said, adding that the management too should consider withdrawing the FIR lodged by them at the police station. He said last evening he had held a meeting with the workers, who had agreed to send representatives of the garden labour union to the meeting and had expressed regret over the incident.

He said he would draft the letter to be sent to the management and Abita’s Dibrugarh office tomorrow, condemning the violence and expressing willingness of the workers to sit for talks to end the impasse. He said the matter should not be dragged for long as continuing the lockout might lead to a sensitive situation in which “outside forces” might take advantage to fuel unrest.

Dibrugarh deputy commissioner Aruna Rajoria told this correspondent that the situation in the garden was under control and efforts were on to end the stalemate. She said the assistant labour commissioner of the district had been asked to mediate and organise a reconciliatory meeting between the management and the labour union.

Namrup sub-divisional police officer Iftikar Ali said a case had been registered after the garden management filed an FIR. He said an investigation was on and police were keeping a close watch on the situation. Patrolling in the garden areas is also on.

Garden sources said the trigger for the incident was the alleged manhandling of a driver of the estate, Johan Tigga, by Baruah near Duliajan on Thursday. Sources said the official, who was returning from Dibruagh town in his private car, got angry with Tigga when the driver sped away with the garden vehicle he was driving and Baruah lost sight of them estate vehicle for a long time.