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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Bengal government to introduce standard operating procedures on tea garden closure

Sources in the government said the SOPs are almost ready and will be introduced ahead of the Lok Sabha elections

Anirban Choudhury, Bireswar Banerjee Siliguri, Alipurduar Published 19.02.24, 08:46 AM
Workers in a Darjeeling hills garden.

Workers in a Darjeeling hills garden. File picture

The Bengal government will soon introduce a set of standard operating procedures for the tea industry of the state to resolve different issues of the industry, especially the closure and reopening of tea estates.

Sources in the government said the SOPs are almost ready and will be introduced ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

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“The chief minister had formed a group of ministers which comprised ministers and some elected representatives. The group held a meeting in November last year where the SOPs were discussed. It is waiting for the final nod from the chief minister and will be introduced before the Lok Sabha elections are announced,” said a source.

The group has state ministers like Moloy Ghatak, Shashi Panja, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Bulu Chik Baraik, Rathin Ghosh, as well as Gorkhaland Territorial Administration chief executive Anit Thapa.

A senior Trinamul functionary who is privy to the development said the SOPs have been drafted to prevent the frequent closure of tea gardens.

“In the SOPs, it will be mentioned that tea companies which are smoothly running gardens will be awarded by the state. On the other hand, if the management of any tea estate leaves the garden without serving any notice, then, after three months, the garden can be declared abandoned and the state can auction it, seeking new investors,” he said.

Once a new company steps in to take over an abandoned or closed garden, it will have to meet certain criteria in the SOPs.

These include at least one year’s experience in running a tea estate and submission of three months’ wages and salaries of workers and employees to the state government.

“Such clauses, we believe, will discourage tea companies from abandoning or closing down gardens on flimsy pretexts,” said the Trinamul leader.

Added to it, there will be provisions in the SOPs to resolve disputes like irregularities in giving provident fund and other retirement benefits, due wages and bonus and other statutory benefits to workers.

“The state labour department has received complaints from the workers of several tea estates that the management is irregular in making such payments or doesn’t extend due benefits to them. Once the SOPs are ready, the department andother authorities of the state government can act on a set of guidelines to resolve these issues,” said a source in the labour department.

The initiative to introduce the SOPs ahead of the polls is yet another plan of Trinamul to draw support from the tea population. In 2019, BJP won Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar Lok Sabha seats with support from most tea workers and their families.

“In our campaign, we will underscore that the SOPs will help to resolve the problems fast,” said a Trinamul leader in Alipurduar.

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