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Pay delay cloud on small gardens

May 2: The Indian Tea Planters’ Association (small and new tea gardens’ forum) today said there might be delay in the payment of wages to workers serving in small plantations under the body because of the dry spell that damaged bushes and led to financial loss.

The association said payments to the 75 gardens, all in Jalpaiguri, with a combined strength of 1,000 to 1,500 workers would be made after May.

Jayanta Bhowmik, the joint convenor of ITPA (small and new tea gardens’ forum), said because of the one-and-a-half month-long dry spell, which led to drying of tealeaves and pest attacks, the association could not sell tealeaves to bought-leaf factories.

“The bushes have suffered a lot. Further, because of attacks of pests like red spider termites, the small growers have had to borrow money to arrange for irrigation,” Bhowmik said. Dry bushes are prone to pest attacks. “There has been no production in the small tea sector for over the past two-three months. There might be delay in payment. Mentioning the pitiable state of affairs in the industry, we have sent letters to trade unions, requesting them to consider the issue with sympathy,” Bhowmik said.

The per day wage in the small tea gardens is Rs 100.

Payment of wages in the sector across north Bengal varies. While some gardens pay wages daily, others pay weekly, fortnightly or even monthly.

“There are 75 small gardens under ITPA. While some have paid the March-April wages to few, others haven’t. They want interim relief till May-end. By that time, they can obtain cash through sale of leaves and pay wages from March to May,” said a source. Jalpaiguri has 6,500-odd small estates with around 75,000 workers.

Bijoygopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Small Tea Growers’ Associations, said: “For tea bushes, rainfall of around 310mm is required from January to April. This year, it rained only 20mm during that time. The production in an acre ranges from 500kg to 1,500 kg a month. This year, it has come down by 40 to 50 per cent. The federation has written to the Tea Board of India, seeking intervention and financial assistance.”

While some trade unions said labourers would not work without wages, others said they were ready for talks. Ziaur Alam, joint general secretary of Citu-backed Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, said: “There is no question of workers serving without wage.” Kalyan Hore, vice-president of Trinamul-backed Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union, said: “There is no question of letting planters engage workers without wage. But we are ready to discuss.”