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State opens Jungpana grain store

- Garden hands refuse to take rations, saying estate must be opened first

Jungpana, Aug. 10: The Jungpana management today handed over the keys to the garden’s grain godown to the Darjeeling district administration but workers refused to collect rations, saying the estate should reopen first and somebody from the management should distribute the food items.

Yesterday, the Jungpana management had written to the administration citing reasons for being unable to supply rations to the workers, saying that the food items were a part of the wages, and as wages were not being given, how could food grain be distributed. The estate has been shut since July 31 after the management alleged that a section of workers had intimidated garden officials.

On Friday, Kurseong subdivisional officer U. Swaroop had told Jungpana authorities to disburse rations within 24 hours, failing which the administration would disburse it. “If the management fails to open the ration shop within 24 hours, then we will break open the ration shop and distribute foodgrain either on Sunday or Monday,” he had said.

The letter the Jungpana management wrote to the administration yesterday requesting it to “review” its decision was in response to this order.

Today, Swaroop went to the garden around 12.30pm with the grain godown keys after he had “a talk with the garden proprietor this morning and told him about the need to disburse rations to workers”. He said the garden officials “handed over the keys of the storeroom at 8am”. “Earlier, we had received a letter from the management requesting us to review our decision, to which we refused.”

Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association who spoke on behalf of the Jungpana management, said: “Interference on issues which are the management’s prerogatives does not yield results. The workers could well understand its implication and future impact.”

Asked about the management’s decision of handing over the godown keys to the Kurseong SDO, Mukherjee said: “The management decided at the last moment that it would be best to hand over the keys, otherwise, there could have been destruction of garden property and pilferage in the garden.”

There are indications that the management is likely to attend the August 12 meeting which has been called at Siliguri to get the garden opened.

Today, workers assembled after Swaroop went to the grain storeroom, which is on the garden premises. But they refused to accept rations that the administration tried to distribute.

One of the workers, Yosadha Tamang, told the SDO: “We don’t want to take the rations as the issue is about reopening the tea garden. The management should have come today. They must come to the garden to solve the issue. They cannot always run away. The workers are disciplined in the garden.”

Asked whether the workers were facing hardships, Tamang said: “There will be a problem when a garden is closed but we are managing.”

Bimal Gurung, the assistant secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (Jungpana unit), said: “Even if one representative of the garden would have come today, the workers would have accepted the rations. We will see what will be the outcome of the August 12 meeting that the administration has called and decide on our next step. Our demand is immediate reopening of the garden, not rations.”

Swaroop said: “There was some miscommunication. The workers were under the impression that we would reopen the garden today. This is not possible from my side and a meeting to end the impasse has been called on August 12.”

The workers are entitled to 1kg of rice and 2.3kg of flour each week.