|The closed gates of Dhekhlapara (below) and the factory of Sikarpur
Siliguri, Sept. 25: Trade union leaders and tea workers have made it clear that any entrepreneur claiming to reopen closed estates would not be welcome without proper identification papers.
“Since the closure of the gardens, we attended numerous meetings and witnessed negotiations, but in only a handful of cases the efforts were genuine,” said Chitta Dey, the convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, today.
“On many occasions, we met people who were just contemplating purchasing a garden but never did. From now on, buyers must prove their credentials — title deeds and leases drawn up in their names — before we attend any discussion,” he added.
The reaction follows a recent assertion by Gopinath Das, a Calcutta-based entrepreneur and chairman of the Hindustan International Industries Pvt. Ltd, who claimed that he is the owner of one “closed” garden and about to buy another.
“We purchased Dheklapara tea estate earlier and now the deal of Sikarpur and Bhandapur is complete,” Das told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta today. “If we succeed in procuring necessary orders from the high court (the creditors had filed cases against the earlier owners), both these gardens will open on October 5.”
Das was earlier identified as a saviour of the ailing brew belt when he purchased Dheklapara — closed since August 2002 — and reopened it on July 9, 2005 at a programme attended by Bollywood stars. This time, trade unions have made it clear that Das will have to first pass the acid test.
“He (Das) purchased Dheklapara for Rs 18 crore and made tall promises,” Dey said. “However, he suddenly abandoned the garden on March 13, 2006. We have learnt a lesson and this time he will have to prove himself the rightful owner of both the gardens.”
On November 22, 2005, Das had announced that his company would make an investment of Rs 100 crore in tea industry over the next three years and that he was contemplating purchasing four more closed gardens.
While union leaders and workers take a cautious stance, Das claims that he is the owner of the two gardens now.
“I have all the documents with me. There is no problem with Dheklapara but for Sikarpur, there are a few litigations which need to be resolved,” he said. “I will be in Jalpaiguri this week-end to meet all persons concerned.”
According to Das, the total liability at Sikarpur is around Rs 11.5 crore while it is a few crores in Dheklapara.
Das also claimed that the Union minister of state for commerce and industries Jairam Ramesh will be present during the reopening of Sikarpur. Ramesh, who was in Shillong today, could not be contacted.