Cloud on cash earned by felling ‘shade trees’
A senior leader of the Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union, the tea trade union of the party, has written to the district magistrates of three major tea producing districts of Bengal — Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar — saying that a section of tea companies are selling shade trees and not utilising the proceeds for welfare of tea workers and their families like they should.
Trees are planted intermittently to provide shade to tea bushes. “The shade trees save bushes from the scorching sun and help retain the quality of tea leaves,” said a tea expert.
If any shade tree dries up or weakens, it is chopped off and a new sapling is planted.
“To cut a tree, they have to obtain permission from the state forest department,” the expert added.
This is where Prabhat Mukherjee, president of Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union, who has sent the letters to the district magistrates, have accused a section of tea estates. “While obtaining permission, tea companies confirm that the sale proceeds of the shade trees will be used for the welfare of the tea workers and their families. But in a number of gardens, even 10 per cent of the proceeds are not used for workers,” said Mukherjee.
The proceeds, he said, should be used for construction and repairing of workers’ quarters, clearing their old dues, among others. But according to Mukherjee, workers do not have any inkling as to how much money has been earned by selling the timber.
“We have found that workers in some of the estates are disgruntled because of such practice of the management. That is why we sought an intervention from the district magistrates. They should evolve a mechanism to confirm total transparency,” the senior trade union leader said.
Representatives of tea planters’ associations differed.
“The guidelines of the state government are strictly followed while felling the shade trees. Tea estates need to show utilisation certificates of the money earned by selling trees to the state forest department to obtain permit to transport the timber,” said Sanjay Bagchi, secretary, the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.
A senior manager at a tea estate in the Dooars said the fund is used for various purposes, ranging from construction and repair of roads, bridges and crèche to purchase of materials for sports. “Such spends also come under workers’ welfare,” he said.