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2 charred in tea estate arson
Konapathar workers set 2 bungalows on fire

Jorhat, Dec. 26: A man and a woman were charred to death as labourers of Konapathar tea estate in Assam’s Tinsukia district today set ablaze the manager’s bungalow to protest the arrest of two colleagues.

Tinsukia deputy commissioner S.S. Meenakshi Sundaram told The Telegraph that two charred bodies — that of a man and a woman — had been recovered from the debris. As the bodies were charred beyond recognition, it could not be ascertained whether they were that of the garden owner and his wife or the manager and his wife.

Sources in Guwahati said the estate’s owner, Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee, and his wife Reeta, were visiting the estate at the time of the arson. The sources said they feared the worst for the couple.

Sundaram said the incident took place after two labourers, Ajit Murah and Suraj Murah, were arrested this afternoon on charges of theft. The garden management had lodged a complaint with the police a few days ago about theft of garden materials.

After the arrests, around 200 labourers of the garden, armed with bows and arrows, gathered near the manager’s bungalow, barged into it and set it on fire, sources said.

The deputy commissioner said besides the manager’s bungalow, the mob set ablaze another bungalow, too. Unconfirmed reports said two vehicles of the garden were set alight.

Eyewitnesses told officials this evening that the workers had yesterday wanted to meet the management to talk about a notice served to 10 labourers to vacate their quarters. The management apparently declined to do so. The arrests over the theft aggravated the situation, the sources claimed.

Tinsukia superintendent of police P.P. Singh and other senior officials of the district have reached the spot.

“We are waiting for reinforcements. We will launch an operation in the morning to control the group of about 1,000 labourers who have gathered near the site,” a sub-divisional officer said.

Sundaram has ordered an inquiry to be conducted by Margherita sub-divisional magistrate Pallash Ranjan Ghorpholia.

The garden, 50km from Tinsukia town near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border under Bordomsa police station in Margherita subdivision, belongs to MKB (Asia) Private Limited, a family-owned enterprise, which also owns the Rani tea estate near Guwahati. The garden is a member of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association.

In 2010, Rani tea estate was embroiled in a controversy leading to the arrest of Bhattacharjee. He had allegedly shot a boy dead while trying to disperse villagers who had gathered near his bungalow to protest his alleged attempt to molest a woman. The shooting had sparked a violent protest from the villagers who burnt parts of the factory. The police had also seized a Winchester rifle and a revolver from Bhattacharjee. Rani tea estate has been closed since the incident.


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