Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Binay Tamang on Sunday said his party would no longer “recognise” the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) and the Indian Tea Association (ITA) for talks, accusing the planters’ bodies of working like “brokers” and precipitating the recent bonus crisis.
The Darjeeling Tea Industry has 87 tea gardens, of which 60-odd are members of the DTA and the rest of the ITA. A few are unattached. These associations usually represent the industry and intervene when problems arise in member-gardens.
“The Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (the Binay camp’s labour arm) and our party will not recognise the Darjeeling Tea Association and the Indian Tea Association henceforth. We will directly talk to the owners regarding problems in gardens,” said Tamang. He added that “they (the planters’ associations) have become like brokers and were the ones to create the tea bonus crisis”.
Tamang reached Darjeeling on Sunday following treatment in Siliguri after the recent hunger strike over the 20 per cent bonus demand that the planters eventually agreed to following an agitation spanning weeks.
Sources said the gardens pay an annual membership to the two associations based on production. An official from one of the associations refused comment on Tamang’s statement.
Observers, however, believe that it would be difficult for the owners to be involved in all garden problems directly. These associations also represent the owners at government meetings.
Tamang, who hinted that he would be present at a November meeting where the date for disbursement of the remaining 8 per cent bonus to garden workers will be finalised, said it would be better if officials of the planters’ associations stayed away from the talks. “It will be better if the association officials are not present in that meeting,” said Tamang.
All trade unions from Darjeeling had jointly agitated for the 20 per cent bonus.
Tamang, however, made it clear that he was not trying to take credit for ensuring 20 per cent bonus, even though it was being paid in two instalments. “It was a joint movement and a joint victory. Credit will go jointly to all the trade unions. I am not trying to attend the meeting to take personal credit.”