July 10: Raipur Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri that was shut for about nine months reopened today after a Chennai-based chartered accountant took it over.
The new owner, Guru Shankar, reached Raipur this morning and offered prayers at a temple in the estate. Workers who garlanded and welcomed him were told that repair of the factory and maintenance of tea bushes would start in few a days.
“The garden reopened today and the new owner has taken it over from the old management. Soon, we would receive documents of land lease in the name of the new owner from the state government. Once we receive those, we will initiate basic work like repair and improvement of the factory and maintenance of tea bushes,” said Charanpreet Kundan, the garden manager.
“Discussions would be held and accordingly, payments would be made to the workers to clear their dues,” said Kundan who accompanied Shankar to the garden today.
The decision to reopen the estate was taken at a meeting held at the Jalpaiguri district magistrate’s office yesterday where the old owner assented to sell his shares to Shankar.
Sources said the garden shut down on October 19, 2003. After remaining shut for six years, it reopened on August 3, 2009 and was shut again on October 13, 2013.
“The lease and ownership are in the name of T.P. Roy, a planter from Jalpaiguri. Since 2009, Subrata Saha and his father Mohinimohan Saha were running the garden. They had 51 per cent shares. Today, Shankar took over the shares,” said a source. The remaining 49 per cent stays with Roy.
Sources said in the past nine months, 30 garden residents have died, including six who passed away within a week last month. The garden has 618 permanent workers and a total population of over 3,000.
Mukesh Goala, 26, from the closed Bandapani Tea Estate in Alipurduar district died on Thursday. “He was suffering from diabetes and weakness,” said Anuradha Talwar of the NGO Right to Food & Work that is conducting a survey in the garden. She said since July 2013, when the estate was shut, at least 30 people have died.