Morcha to halt tea pluck

Brew blues

Darjeeling: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated trade union for tea estate workers has decided to stop plucking of lucrative first flush tea leaves in the Darjeeling hills from Monday to protest the planters' failure to clear workers' bonus.

Bharat Thakuri, the general secretary of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, on Sunday said: "We had asked the management of respective tea gardens to clear last year's bonus by March 10 but only 14 of 87 hill estates have cleared the dues. We have, therefore, decided to stop plucking of green leaves in the hill gardens from Monday."

The 87 gardens producing Darjeeling Tea had agreed to pay bonus at 19.75 per cent of the worker's earning of the 2016-17 financial year.

The bonus is usually cleared before Puja but most gardens have only cleared 50 per cent of the amounts because of resumption of the Gorkhaland movement last year.

The Morcha union has already enforced a ban on dispatch of made tea from the gardens. If green leaves are not plucked, there is every possibility of the crop getting damaged and the quality deteriorating.

The 87 gardens produce around 8 million kg of made tea annually. However, production was less than 60 per cent last year because of the unrest. The first flush production has started in gardens at lower elevations but the peak season would begin from the third week of March and continue for around 45 days.

Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), said: "No management in senses would want to disturb the first flush. The management is not asking for any compensation and we are duty bound to pay the agreed amounts. We are only asking for some time as the industry is facing a severe economic crisis."

The first flush tea commands the highest price and most of the commodity is exported. The Darjeeling tea industry has four flushes, first, second, monsoon and autumn. The first flush starts from March and goes till mid-April, followed by the other flushes.

Thakuri said some planters were getting in touch with the Union and had promised that they would give in writing on the date by which the remaining 50 per cent of the bonus would be cleared.


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