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Wage assault on tea manager

- Dooars garden halts work in section of estate after worker hits official & chases with dagger

Alipurduar, Aug. 24: A Dooars tea garden has decided to stop the plucking of leaves in a section of the estate from tomorrow following a worker’s alleged assault on an assistant manager last night after which he chased the official with a dagger.

Eleven other assistant managers of Dima Tea Garden in Alipurduar resigned from their posts today saying they felt “insecure” in the garden.

Subodh Lama, who was angry that half a day’s wage had been deducted and had allegedly attacked assistant manager Dipak Kingkar Singh, has been arrested. He has been remanded in 14 days’ jail custody by the Alipurduar additional chief judicial magistrate’s court.

The garden, which employs 1,800 hands, has decided to stop plucking in its out division, a portion of the property that has the major part of the garden area. The main division of the garden has some bushes, but that section accommodates offices and the factory of the garden.

Singh, who was assaulted by Subodh in his quarters, was the assistant manager of the out division.

The garden has not put up any work suspension notice yet — a practice common in gardens if the management senses that tension could rise in the estate.

The garden belongs to Suraj Govind Estates Pvt Ltd, which is headquartered in Calcutta.

Recently in the Jungpana garden in Darjeeling, work was halted after some of the management staff members alleged that they were threatened by a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha tea union leader.

The Dima garden has several unions, among them those backed by the Congress and the Morcha, but Subodh’s union affiliation, if any, is not known yet.

Yesterday tea trade union leaders condemned the attack but also protested the management’s decision to stop the plucking of leaves in the out division that employs nearly 500 people.

The garden in total employs 1,800 workers.

According to police, Subodh, who worked in the out division of the garden, which is 32km from Alipurduar town, went to collect his wages from the office last evening and saw that half a day’s wage had been deducted for a certain day.

He rushed to the residence of Dipak Kingkar Singh and beat him up.

The assistant manager fled his residence and started running towards the main division office, about a kilometre away from his quarters. Subodh, according to the police, chased him with a dagger in his hand but could not attack Singh again as he entered the manager’s office.

Subodh’s job is to spray pesticides on the bushes. According to a management official, he and four others had not done half a day’s work recently and so the wages of all the five had been slashed. The wage rate in Dooars gardens is Rs 95 a day. The assistant manager was taken to a nearby health centre yesterday and this afternoon, he was shifted to the Cooch Behar MJN Hospital.

Sudhir Kumar Das, the estate’s manager, said: “This is the fourth time in the out division that a worker tried to assault a manager. In earlier cases, the managers somehow fled but this time the manager was beaten up by the worker.”

Das said Singh had deducted half a day’s wage from four other workers too, but they had not complained.

“When the worker chased the manager with a dagger, all were watching instead of trying saving the manager,” he said.

Singh somehow made it to his chamber, Das said, and was taken to a local hospital from there.

“All the 11 assistant managers of the garden resigned from their posts as they are feeling insecure. I have submitted a copy of their letters to the police station. We have decided that work in out division of the garden will stop from tomorrow. The works in the main division will continue as usual,” Das said.

Rab Baraik, the secretary of the garden unit of the Intuc-backed NUPW, said: “What the worker has done is wrong but the management cannot stop work of 500 workers (in the out division) just because of one worker. Now we are sitting in the out division and the management has taken the keys of the offices of the division. Tomorrow, the workers of out division may become furious because the culprit has already been arrested. Tomorrow, we will call the officer in charge of of Kalchini police station.”

Attacks on tea garden officials over wages and other issues in tea gardens are a recurring problem and have sometimes led to closures of some estates.

On March 30, a worker of Gopaldhara Tea Estate allegedly entered the manager’s bungalow in a drunken state and tried to attack the official with a khukuri after the labourer was told that his wages would be deducted for not working the full shift time for the several days.

Three days before the attack in the garden near Siliguri, an assistant manager of Dalmore estate was hacked to death by a worker who alleged that the official had misbehaved with his wife.