The management abandoned Ramjhora tea estate in Alipurduar district on Saturday night, leaving around 750 workers jobless.
No notice announcing a lockout or suspension of work was issued in the garden located in Madarihat block. The labourers came to know on Sunday morning that the management staff had left the plantation which had closed down in 2002 and reopened in 2010.
The garden had been running in a consistent manner for the past 11 years.
Sources said when the garden had reopened – it was sick then, the management was reportedly assured by the administration that the 100-day work scheme would be introduced in the garden so that workers and their families could have alternative livelihood options.
“However, no major initiative was taken by the administration to launch the 100-day job scheme in the garden. The management representatives recently told government officials it would help them if the work was provided to the garden residents under MGNREGS during the winter when no tea is produced,” said a source.
On Thursday, representatives of the company that ran the garden had a meeting with trade union leaders in the office of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association (DBITA).
At the meeting, the management representatives said they were in a financial crisis and it would be difficult for them to pay the workers. They also proposed that the workers and their families join the 100-day work scheme.
“The trade union leaders didn’t, however, accept the proposal and asserted that the management would have to disburse the wages in due time. Hence, no decision was made at the meeting,” the source said.
Such a situation made the management abandon the garden on Saturday night.
“It is true that no decision was reached at the meeting but that does not mean the management will have to abandon the garden. Another round of talks could have been easily held to resolve the issue. We suspect the management was waiting for an opportunity to shut down Ramjhora. We will urge officials of the state labour department to take moves for the estate’s reopening at the earliest,” said Mannalal Jain, working president, Trinamul Cha Bagan Sramik Union.
Representatives of tea planters’ associations, however, blamed the workers.
“Some trade union leaders and the workers failed to understand the problem that the management of Ramjhora had been facing these days. It is because of their non-cooperation that the management had to leave the garden,” said Sanjay Bagchi, secretary, DBITA.
Union minister of state for minority affairs John Barla, who is also the MP of Alipurduar, visited the garden on Sunday. He alleged that the management had not cleared provident fund and gratuities of workers. “The management has deceived the workers. I would request the state labour department to take legal steps against the tea company concerned,” said Barla.
Md. Rizwan, the additional labour commissioner in Siliguri, said: “We are aware of the situation at Ramjhora. Appropriate steps would be taken to resolve the issue soon,” said.