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Dooars tea garden shut

Alipurduar, Dec. 30: The management of Madhu Tea Estate in Kalchini yesterday put up a notice announcing suspension of work citing “unruly activities, indiscipline, riotous attitude of workers and illogical pressure”.

This is the third time this year that the garden with 950 workers has stopped work.

In 2008, the estate was declared “sick” by the labour department because of its huge dues and dipping production. Ration for 60 fortnight cycles and wages for two months is pending, sources said.

“For the last three months, there has been no manager in the garden and the deputy manager is also not here for the last 15 days,” said Nirmal Lohar, the unit secretary of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union.

The estate is being run by two assistant managers.

Trouble started earlier this month when workers demanded that they be paid for 26 working days in a month under the NREGS, instead of 12 days.

Under the rural job scheme, labourers are given 14 days’ work a month with a daily wage of Rs 136.

This month, when the workers went to Madhu post office to collect the wages, they were asked to collect it from the garden. Following protests, the money was finally paid at the post office. But an official allegedly told workers that out of the Rs 136, each one will get Rs 90, the daily garden wage.

“We held a meeting with the management on December 27 and told Bimal Sharma, the assistant manager, that out of the 26 (working) days in a month, we were getting 14 days’ work under the NREGS and they (owners) should pay us for the remaining 12 days. But Sharma told us that they will collect Rs 46 per day (Rs 136-90) from each worker’s NREGS wage and pay our dues for two months from that money. We protested against that,” Lohar said.

He added that ration for 60 fortnight, two month’s wage (December 2011 and February 2012) and an instalment of the increased wage (Rs 95 per day) along with provident fund was pending.

“Sharma told us that he will talk to the management but he did not return. Yesterday, we saw the notice. We have the right to demand the dues but we have never put any pressure on the owners,” Lohar said.

Earlier this year, the garden in Kalchini, 35km from here, was shut for four days before the Durga Puja and for 42 days in March.

“We are in uncertainty and we have requested the assistant labour commissioner, Alipurduar, Sumanta Shekhar Roy, and the BDO of Kalchini to resolve the issue,” said Lohar.

Amitangshu Chakroborty, the advisor to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, Jalpaiguri, said: “Unruly activities, indiscipline, riotous attitude of workers and illogical pressure on the management compelled the management to issue the notice as they were feeling insecure.”

Kalchini BDO Chandrasen Khati said: “I am in touch with the management and I will try to solve the issue, although the problem is between the management and the workers.”

Assistant labour commissioner Roy could not be contacted.