| A tea worker in a Darjeeling garden. File picture
Siliguri, Nov. 25: A tripartite meeting, called by the state labour minister to help reopen a large number of closed tea gardens in north Bengal, ended in disaster today with the management of most tea estates staying away.
“The government will take stern action if the managements of the gardens do not sit down with the labour department and sort out the issues facing them individually,” an agitated Mohammad Amin, the labour minister, said at the end of the meeting.
Five of some 30 tea gardens had representatives at the talks, called to discuss the closure of at least 13 estates in the region. Besides, some 25 gardens in the hills, Dooars and Terai have been ailing for the past few years, hit hard by labour problems coupled with the slump in the international market.
While the managements did not say why they stayed away, the Indian Tea Planters’ Association said representatives of the five gardens had conveyed the industry’s views at the meeting.
“We share a common view as planters. Here, numbers hardly matter,” association convener N.K. Basu said. “The garden managements in most cases found it hard to control the labourers and had no alternative but to close down the estates.”
Basu said the association members would accept the labour minister’s suggestions and sort out the differences at tripartite meetings from now on.
The trade unions, however, directly blamed the labour department for the failure of the talks.
“The meeting was a complete failure. Nothing came of it. The government should have ensured the presence of the gardens’ management in the first place,” said Samir Roy, general secretary of the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, an umbrella organisation of different unions. “It is high time the government stepped in to solve the crisis facing the workers.”
Roy said the government should consider the economic fallout of the closures since the region produced nearly 25 per cent of the country’s tea. “Drastic action should be taken against the management of the gardens indulging in corrupt practices to deprive the workers of their dues,” he said.
The Co-ordination Committee of Plantation Workers was equally critical of the way the department handled today’s meeting. “The government is not serious about the problems facing tea labourers in most gardens in the region. Otherwise, it would not have allowed the planters to go scot-free after what they did today,” a leader said.