The manager of a tea garden owned by Duncans Goenka Group in Jalpaiguri district was confined to his office for six hours on Tuesday for payment of wages of December and January.
While nine Duncans gardens in Alipurduar district had been shut a few years ago, Kilkot Tea Estate was among a few owned by the group which were managed properly.
However, the Kilkot garden in Malbazar subdivision ran up the wage dues of Rs 35 lakh, which led to the confinement of the manager on Tuesday.
The gherao triggered a war of words between the BJP and the Trinamul Congress with two parties blaming each other for the plight of workers in many tea gardens in north Bengal.
The Kilkot garden has over 1,200 labourers.
“The management needs to disburse over Rs 30 lakh to clear the wages of December and January. If no wages are paid in February, the dues will climb to Rs 55 lakh. Workers live in a deplorable condition and that is why they have gheraoed the manger,” said Charku Mahali, a leader of the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, which is allegiant to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad.
Manager Joy Mukherjee was confined to the office from 9am. “There has been a delay in the payment because of financial constraints. We are trying to resolve the problem and are in touch with senior officials,” Mukherjee said.
Chandan Bhowmik, a Trinamul leaded in Jalpaiguri, said Nirmala Sitharaman had visited some Duncans gardens as Union minister of state for commerce and industries a few years back and promised that the Centre would take initiatives to ensure that they were all run in a proper manner.
“However, the Centre’s plan to take over some of the closed Duncans gardens stumbled due to a number of reasons. It was the state government which facilitated the reopening of some gardens,” said Bhowmik.
Of the nine shut Duncans estates, seven were reopened.
The BJP, however, said workers were yet to receive wages in the reopened Duncans gardens and Trinamul leaders’ claims didn’t hold water. “Even though Kilkot was not abandoned, workers’ dues are piling up and there has been no intervention by the state government. Trinamul leaders only indulge in publicity stunts,” said John Barla, a BJP leader in the Dooars.
In Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar Parliament constituencies, votes of the tea population matter a lot. With elections round the corner, it is clear Trinamul and the BJP will time and again raise the issues pertaining to the tea belt.