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Ration threat defied

Darjeeling, Aug. 9: The Jungpana tea garden management today told the state government it was not in a position to disburse rations to the workers, signalling its intent not to buckle under pressure.

The district administration had yesterday threatened to break open the godown at Jungpana, which suspended work on July 31, and release food grain to the labourers if the management did not distribute rations within 24 hours.

Today, the garden wrote to the administration saying it was following “a laid-out procedure” for redress of its grievances and requested that the process “be allowed to reach its logical conclusion”.

After announcing suspension of work citing intimidation by a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-backed union, the garden had said it would not disburse wages or the other statutory benefits during the period of closure. Since the subsidised rations were part of the wages, the garden had stopped them too.

This prompted Kurseong subdivisional officer U. Swaroop to issue an order yesterday threatening to “remove any obstructions” in the path of rations distribution.

Sandeep Mukherjee, principal secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association, today wrote to Swaroop on behalf of the garden management.

The letter makes it clear the management is not willing to toe the administration’s line and seeks a review of Swaroop’s order.

Asked about the management’s next step if the administration went ahead with its threat, a garden source was non-committal.

Swaroop was not available for comment. District magistrate Puneet Yadav said: “I have not yet seen the letter.”

Mukherjee’s letter says: “The ration for the workers is procured by the management at the cost of Rs 17 per kg (the rate fluctuates in the market) and provides it to the workers @0.47p per kg, subsiding the balance as the ration is part of the wage component.”

It adds: “When wage is not being disbursed due to the unit’s closure, how can a wage component be distributed, which would defeat the purpose of closure and embolden the erring workers further and would again lead to a shutdown.”

The letter contests Swaroop’s accusation against the management of “deliberate deprivation” of the workers by “locking up ration” meant for them. It says the management suspended work “in consonance with the Industrial Dispute Act” and cites “indiscipline, personal threats and intimidation of the workforce led by the union officials” as the reason. It says the closure was “not a deliberate act as stated”.

The letter denies the allegation that the management has locked up the rations. “The management procures food grains for the workers and stores it in its own godown for distribution to the workers every fortnight and it has not locked up any ration shops in the garden which are still running,” the letter says.