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Agitation to reopen garden

- Konapathar standoff may affect others, feels ATTSA

Jorhat, Jan. 3: The Assam Tea Tribes’ Students’ Association (ATTSA) has decided to launch a phasewise agitation from January 7 if the management fails to reopen the Konapathar tea garden in Tinsukia district by Monday.

The estate, under Bordumsa police station of Margherita sub-division near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, has remained closed since December 26 after irate labourers killed garden owner Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee and his wife Reeta and set Bhattacharjee’s bungalow on fire.

President of the students’ association Prohlad Gowala told The Telegraph this evening over phone from Tinsukia that an executive meeting of the students’ association held today had decided to resort to agitation to demand reopening of the estate.

On Monday, activists of the association will stage a three-hour sit-in in front of the assistant labour commissioner’s office in Tinsukia. Gowala said if the estate was not reopened after the protest, then on January 11 a similar protest for three hours would be staged in front of the Tinsukia deputy commissioner’s office.

He said even after the second phase of protest, work in the estate was not resumed then the students’ association would block National Highways 37 and 38 at the Makum area of Tinsukia district for three hours. “If the estate is not reopened even then, we will decide on an aggressive course of agitation,” Gowala said.

Gowala said for a section of labourers of the garden which has been accused of committing the “barbaric act” along with persons from outside the garden, a large number of workers of Konapathar should not suffer.

He said the meeting condemned new revelations that a few accused practised cannibalism while killing the couple.

Gowala said if the garden remained closed indefinitely, innocent workers will suffer and the situation could be exploited by vested interests to create unrest in other gardens of the state. Gowala said the meeting decided to let law take its own course.

The secretary of the Margherita unit of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), Hari Nandan Gour, said yesterday that the union had submitted a memorandum, written by workers of Konapathar garden unit of the ACMS, to the Tinsukia district administration urging reopening of the estate at the earliest. The memorandum will be handed over to the estate management.

Gour said the memorandum submitted to additional deputy commissioner Jogesh Baruah, while condemning the incident by the labourers, promised to cooperate with the management and administration for smooth running of the estate.

He said it was in the interest of all to reopen the garden and more so for the workers as they were facing severe hardship because of absence of income.

“Yesterday was the day for supplying food rations to estate labourers, but with the garden remaining closed it could not be done and payment of wages given on Saturdays, too, is pending,” Gour said, adding in such a situation, outside forces might try to exploit the workers.

He hoped Konapathar will not have the same fate like the garden owned by the slain planter in Rani near Guwahati, which has remained closed since March 2010 after Bhattacharjee reportedly shot dead a youth when a crowd was protesting in front of his bungalow over alleged assault by the planter on a woman.