Tea trade unions in the Darjeeling hills cutting across political lines have agreed to allow the state government to conduct surveys of tea garden land but are yet undecided on the type of land document they would want the government to distribute among garden workers.
Tea garden union leaders on Sunday attended a meeting convened by the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in Kurseong to discuss the modified notification issued by the state government on November 2 for the tea gardens of Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
“Following the new notification, we have all agreed on the need to conduct the land survey on tea gardens. We, however, have not agreed on the type of land document that is best suitable for tea garden workers,” said Suraj Subba, leader of Joint Forum. “If the land document is not to our satisfaction, we will oppose the move.”
Joint Forum is an umbrella organisation of tea unions in north Bengal. More than 20 tea unions are part of Joint Forum except that of Trinamul and Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM).
The forum was instrumental in opposing a decision by the state government in August this year to distribute five decimals of land each to residents of tea gardens in the 87 tea gardens of the Darjeeling hills.
The Opposition said several tea garden workers had more than 5 decimals in their possession, which they should get with documents.
Anit Thapa, the president of the BGPM was instrumental in getting the state government to reconsider the first notification on the tea land rights, after initially supporting the government’s five-decimal scheme.
The proposed five-decimal scheme was met with such resistance that government surveyors were not allowed to survey many Darjeeling tea gardens. Subsequently, the survey was discontinued in the Darjeeling hills from September 12.
On November 2, the state government issued a notice to “resume survey work in tea gardens in GTA areas without reference to any limitations on area held.
“Since the government is only talking about a survey, we have no objection,” said Subba.
The Opposition leaders maintained that they would not agree to a “homestead” patta that the state government had initially proposed.
Another type of patta that can be distributed among tea garden workers is the agricultural patta where the land ceiling is much higher.
“Following today’s development, survey work on garden land will start soon. We need to rise above politics and work on this important issue concerning our people,” said GTA chief Thapa.