Alipurduar tea estate to reopen after 9 years
Gates of the closed Bundapani tea estate in Alipurduar will reopen after a gap of nine years on July 25.
The decision was made at a tripartite meeting at the office of additional labour commissioner in Siliguri on Friday.
Located in Madarihat block of Alipurduar district, the tea garden was abandoned by its erstwhile owners on July 13, 2013, making around 1,200 workers jobless.
“Since 1999, the garden has been shaky and till 2013, there had been five closures. But then, it was completely abandoned by the management, much to the despair of workers,” said Mannalal Jain, working president of Trinamul Cha Bagan Shramik Union.
The state labour department started tripartite talks to pave way for the reopening of the garden. As the erstwhile owners didn’t respond, the state cancelled the land lease of Bundapani in 2017.
Since then, the state and senior tea trade union leaders had been scouting for investors to take over the garden.
“We finally found Merico Group, which has taken over some other closed tea estates in the Dooars. The garden will reopen in another 10 days,” said Jain, adding around 40 per cent of the garden’s workers had migrated elsewhere.
Sources said the new company will pay some of the old dues in installments.
“The due gratuity of the workers will be cleared by March 2024. A due bonus will be paid in three installments by Diwali,” said a source.
As the garden has stayed closed for years, a lot of work is required to resume tea production. Along with factory renovation, jobs include planting new saplings, reviving old plantations and improving office and allied infrastructure.
“It is a challenge for us to revive the garden. We seek cooperation from trade unions and workers,” said Sammelan Bakshi, the director of Merico Group.
Surendra Kumar Meena, the district magistrate of Alipurduar, said the state labour department, in association with the administrations of tea producing districts, is trying to reopen every closed tea garden.
“It is a major development and we hope the garden will be fully operational in due course,” said Meena.
With the decision being made on Bundapani, there are two more tea gardens – Dheklapara and Lankapara – which are lying close in Alipurduar district.
“We will continue our initiatives to reopen these gardens,” said Md Rizwan, the additional labour commissioner posted in Siliguri.