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Hill ‘blood tea’ campaign worries planters in plains

The campaign was launched to demand the payment of the bonus in a single instalment
Representational image.
Representational image.
File photo

Vivek Chhetri   |   Darjeeling   |   Published 29.09.22, 12:28 AM

An association of tea planters in the plains of north Bengal has written to chief minister Mamata Banerjee expressing concern over the “blood tea” campaign against the Darjeeling Tea industry.

The “blood tea” campaign was spearheaded by Hamro Party chief Ajoy Edwards to protest against the unwillingness of the management of most estates in the hills to pay workers the bonus at one go.

The letter was written by the Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA).“On behalf of the Terai Indian Planters’ Association, we write to submit before your honour that the crowning glory of the Darjeeling Tea Industry has been severely damaged by a derogatory remark of Mr. Ajoy Edwards- as recently he has given a press statement regarding heritage Darjeeling Tea Industry which is more than 100 years old and providing employment to several lacs of people in the hill terrain of North Bengal directly or indirectly,” read the letter by M.K. Maitra, the secretary of the TIPA.

Tea planters in the Terai and the Dooars agreed to pay workers bonus at the rate of 20 per cent and at one go. Producers of Darjeeling Tea did agree to pay the bonus at 20 per cent, but in two tranches of 15 per cent and 5 per cent. 

The “blood tea” campaign was launched to demand the payment of the bonus in a single instalment.

Asked why the TIPA was concerned about the bonus issue in the Darjeeling Tea sector, especially when the demand was to match the agreement in the plains, a planter in the Terai clarified: “This (letter) is not on the bonus issue. It’s the TIPA’s anxiety about the crisis in the Darjeeling Tea industry on which the livelihood of lakhs is dependent. This is not a situation of any ego; it is more about the question of survival of the industry for the overall interest of all concerned.”

Nearly 60 per cent of Darjeeling Tea is exported and planters are worried that Edwards’s “blood tea” campaign could make an adverse impact overseas.

The TIPA has also raised “rumours” about Edwards's charity organisation in the letter to the chief minister.“A strong rumour has been spreading in the Queen of Hills that the said Mr Ajoy Edwards, runs a so called Charitable Foundation and earns crores of rupees through international donations and he is being played in the hands of those international lobbies to damage the glorified image of the Darjeeling Tea,” wrote Maitra.

The Edwards Foundation works extensively on community issues like health and education. The TIPA was also concerned about its member who has a tea estate in Darjeeling. “In the past also to gain cheap popularity, he (Edwards) along with his followers sat for a relay hunger strike to close down one of our Member Tea Estate…,” read the letter.

Edwards and his wife Namrata had sat on a hunger strike in Darjeeling early this year alleging that the interests of the “workers and residents” were being overlooked by the management of the Kanchan View garden. Ajit Kumar Agarwal, the lessee of the garden, later filed a Rs 50 crore defamation suit against Edwards.

Edwards on Wednesday said he would give an appropriate reply to the content of the TIPA’s letter soon.

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