Siliguri, June 11: The Union minister of state for commerce and industry, Jairam Ramesh, has expressed dissatisfaction with the Bengal government for its inability to match Kerala’s drive to reopen closed tea estates.
“Though we have CPM governments in both the states, it is surprising that only one of the 14 closed gardens of Bengal has reopened in the past one month, whereas in Kerala, five of the 17 closed gardens have started functioning within the same time span,” Ramesh told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi today.
“On July 17, eight more gardens are likely to reopen in Kerala,” he added.
Ramesh said the delay in Bengal was at variance with the progressive attitude adopted by the government here. “Representatives of the government speak so much of industrialisation and are even showing progress in some cases. But the unprecedented delay in persuading owners or prospective buyers to reopen the gardens has left us wondering about the contradiction,” he said.
The minister will be in Jalpaiguri on June 29 aiming to reopen three closed estates — Samsing, Bamandanga-Tondu and Redbank (see chart).
“We had decided at a meeting in Calcutta last month that we would be in Jalpaiguri to reopen the gardens. Before that, I would be in Calcutta on June 14-15 to review the situation with tea board officials,” Ramesh said. “It seems that entrepreneurs in Bengal could not be motivated like their colleagues in Kerala.”
This is the second time that Ramesh has decided to come down from Delhi to reopen closed gardens in the Dooars. On his first visit, on May 17, he was asked by the chief secretary of the state to shelve his plan of accompanying the owner of the closed Surendranagar Tea Estate to the garden for its reopening in the face of a possible law and order threat.
The owner, Rabin Paul, however, succeeded in reopening the garden on the scheduled date. Among the 14 gardens in Bengal that have been closed since 2002, Surendranagar is the only one that is currently functioning.
The minister’s plans for the June 29 visit has prompted a flurry of activities at the tea board office in Calcutta.
“We have already held a number of meetings and will meet bankers, owners and other stakeholders of some of the closed gardens tomorrow,” Basudeb Banerjee, the chairman of the tea board, said over phone from Calcutta.
Ramesh added that Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee would accompany him for the formal launch of the Special Purpose Tea Fund in north Bengal. The programme is likely to be held at the auction centre in Jalpaiguri on June 29.
Banerjee said initially the special purpose fund would be disbursed among “eligible planters from Assam and north Bengal” before the focus shifts to estate owners in south India.
“It would be launched in Guwahati on June 25 and in Jalpaiguri on June 29. So far, we have received 256 applications from across the country,” he added.
At the programme in Jalpaiguri, agreements would be signed between some of the planters from north Bengal who have applied for the special funds and the tea board, Banerjee said.
While Ramesh sounded confident about his plan of reopening the three closed gardens during his visit to Jalpaiguri, Paul, who also owns Redbank tea estate, remained non-committal.
“We have received a letter from the minister asking us to reopen Redbank, but we are yet to decide on the issue as there are some pending problems at the garden,” Paul said from Calcutta.