| Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee addresses the rally at the BEd. College ground. A Telegraph picture
Siliguri, Dec. 30: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said he would call tea estate owners for a meeting once he returns to Calcutta to find out the reasons for the spate of lockouts in the gardens of north Bengal.
Addressing a farmers' rally at the BEd. College ground in Shivmandir here, the chief minister said in Siliguri alone the management of three gardens have declared a lockout for reasons best known to the owners. 'The foreign market is good. There was a problem earlier, but not anymore. We will not accept the lockouts,' said Bhattacharjee rather angrily.
He regretted that the closure of gardens has come at a time when the issue of wage hike for workers has been amicably settled. 'What do the owners want' We can't remain silent. Tea, after all, is the biggest industry of the region,' said the chief minister.
Only yesterday, the New Chumta tea estate here had closed down after workers allegedly ignored the management's proposal for the introduction of 'no-work-no-pay' mode of wage payment. Pahargumia and Thanjhora are the other two gardens that were recently locked out.
Tea apart, Bhattacharjee sounded upbeat on the overall scenario in the region. He said unlike in the past, when industries were being set up only in the south Bengal towns, more and more entrepreneurs were showing interest in Siliguri. 'A food park and an IT park are coming up here,' he said.
The chief minister also said vegetable production has been going up in north Bengal in sync with the rest of the state. 'We can say with pride that the state is the largest producer of foodgrain, vegetables and also fish,' he said.
On the recent signing of the tripartite agreement, which envisages the granting of Sixth Schedule status to the DGHC, Bhattacharjee said much before GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh had raised the demand, the CPM had campaigned for it. He also made it clear that Ghisingh has not signed the memorandum of settlement under protest.
'The Union home secretary had categorically told Ghisingh that no such clause would be inserted in the agreement,' he said.
The chief minister said he had also made it clear to the GNLF leader that his claims of granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Gorkhas did not hold much water. 'Ghisingh said we (Gorkhas) are tribals, but I told him that cannot happen just because you say so,' said Bhattacharjee with a chuckle.
The rally, which was organised by the Darjeeling district unit of the All India Krishak Sabha, was the high point of the chief minister's two-day visit to this trading hub, which concludes tomorrow. Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Molla were among the others who addressed the rally.