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SC glare on tea garden pay

Aug. 14: The Supreme Court today accepted a public interest litigation against tea garden owners across the country for defaulting on provident funds, gratuity and wages of labourers.

Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity, International Union of Food Workers, Intuc of Kerala and two other organisations had filed the litigation against the Union of India, the Tea Board, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and the states of Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Y. K. Sabharwal has directed the respondents to appear before the apex court.

Samity members had conducted a survey in 22 tea estates of the Dooars in April-June, 2005, to find out the extent of the problem there and had compiled figures for 18 of them.

“The total amount of provident fund, gratuity and wages due in these estates alone is around Rs 37 crore,” said Debasish Chakrobarty, attached to the samity.

The survey report indicated that 17,162 labourers, both present and retired, have been deprived of their dues, with the liability per worker calculated to be Rs 21,340.

Though the minimum wages in Bengal is Rs 68, the minimum wage for tea workers had been statutorily fixed at Rs 45.90 because they were also entitled to subsidised rations, drinking water, free electricity, medical, housing and other facilities. But these facilities are absent in several tea gardens in the state, like Kathalguri, Chamurchi and Mujnai, the petitioners alleged.

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