Skip to main content

West Bengal tea garden workers protest 'unjust' takeover plan, insist: Pay dues

By Sandip Singha, et al* 

About 1,300 workers of the Jateswar Division of Birpara Tea Garden have begun a struggle to prevent the illegal and unjust takeover of their garden by Merico Agro Industries Ltd. They have read from the newspapers that a meeting has been organised by the West Bengal Labour Department between trade union leaders and the management of Merico Agro Industries Ltd. 
They received no information about this meeting. Nor were they consulted in any way. Also present at this illegal meeting was local MLA, Manoj Tigga. On February 13, 2021, in a workers’ meeting in the garden, the tea garden workers came up with the following three demands:
  1. As per Supreme Court order, the dues which are remaining should be paid immediately before opening of garden.
  2. All the Provident Fund dues which have not been paid by the management should be paid before opening of garden.
  3. The new management should directly come to the garden and make agreement with the workers of the garden before opening the garden.
According to the Tea Board, the total dues which needs to be paid to the workers are Rs 6.33 crore (till 2016, gratuity not included). If gratuity and interest is included this amount would be more than Rs.10 crores . The workers have been only paid an interim relief of Rs 1.76 crore by the government of West Bengal due to a Supreme Court order. The 2,623 workers of the Birpara garden have not been paid their Provident Fund dues since the last 20 years. They have also not been paid their gratuity since 2007.
Birpara tea garden (gram panchayat Shishujhumra, district Alipurduar) was abandoned by the Duncans Pvt Ltd in 2015. It was temporarily opened in 2017 by Duncans, but was again abandoned in September 2019. After this, the Jateshwar division of the Birpara garden made a collective of their own to run the garden. 1300 workers started working on 405 acres. Since then, the workers have received Rs. 10 per kg for plucking leaves.
Thus, many workers were able to earn around Rs 250-300 per day during the season. The collective started saving right from September 2019 and has now successfully saved so much by selling green leaves that each tea garden worker of the Birpara Jateshwar division received Rs 11,280 as bonus from the surplus savings on October 7, 2020. They have also recently received money for their paid leave (“saal chutti”) during the off season. Workers feel the past year has been better for them than even when Duncans was there.
The workers are especially upset about the agreement that took place between so-called trade union leaders and the Merico Agro India Limited in the presence of the Labour Department because this is in contravention of both High Court and Supreme Court orders .On September 20, 2016, in a case filed by Duncans Industries Limited (MAT 562 of 2016), the High Court gave an interim order that states as follows:
In that view of the matter, subject to result of the appeals, the following interim arrangement has been made by us after hearing the learned advocates for the parties:
"(a) the appellants-writ petitioners shall take over management of all the seven tea gardens;
(b) the appellants-writ petitioners shall pay both the current and arrear dues of the workers;
(c) the appellants-writ petitioners shall run the gardens in a prudent businessman like manner; and
(d) the appellants-writ petitioners shall keep the Tea Board informed by fortnightly returns as to the steps taken by them.
It is clarified that the interim order has been passed only for the purpose of improving the lot of the workers as also that of the gardens. The appellants shall not be entitled to alienate or encumber any of the fixed assets except in the usual course of business."

The seven gardens (Lankapara, Gairganda, Tulsipara, Hantapara, Dumchipara,Birpara and Dimdima) thus belong to Duncans and they are not allowed by the court order to give these gardens to any other owner. They are to run the gardens and return dues to workers.
There is also a Supreme Court order (CONMT PET (C) No 16/2012 In W.P.(C) No. 365/2006), in which the Supreme Court had ordered that workers in over 50 closed and abandoned tea gardens (including the 7 Duncans gardens) in 4 states to receive all their dues , including Provident Fund and gratuity. 
Also, each tea garden owner was ordered on December 11,  2019 to deposit an amount of Rs 2 crore which to this date have not been deposited by Duncans, Merico or any other of the tea garden owners.
According to the workers of Jateswar division, they have put a lot of effort to turn the garden into a paying venture ,after it was deserted by Duncans. Now that it is in profitable condition a new greedy owner is wanting to take over. The workers are angry with the management as well as the government, and do not have any faith in the new employer who didn't even consult with them before taking this decision.
So, the workers have decided that they will not allow any company to enter the garden unless and until all their demands are fulfilled. The workers met MLA Manoj Tigga and informed him about their intentions. They have also sent a letter to Labour Minister Shri Moloy Ghatak, and to the Additional Labour Commissioner. and have given a deputation to the Assistant Labour Commissioner at Birpara. 15 women workers are meeting the police and teams of workers are going to the BDO and DM.
---
*Kiran Sharma, Vinay Karketta, Christian Kheria, Kuldeep Lama, Anuradha Talwar with Paschimbanga Khetmajoor Samity (PBKMS)

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Govt of India 'compromising' on mandate to regulate gene technologies, protect nature

Counterview Desk  In a letter sent to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and other related ministries and departments, the Coalition for a GM-Free India has raised "serious concern" over the guidelines notified for Genome Edited Organisms, in which major exemptions from regulations have been offered to certain categories of Genome Edited Organisms/Plants and products. A letter signed by Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Kapil Shah, co-convenors of the NGO network, addressed to Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, said, the Office Memorandum, dated May 17, 2022 of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology about Safety Assessment Guidelines, which follows the Office Memorandum dated March 30, 2022 of the MoEFCC, said, the move "essentially amounts to entry of risky GMOs through the backdoor. Text : Coalition for a  GM-Free India is a national volunteer-driven platform of hundre

A Marxian trend that queries undemocratic customs and traditions of capitalism

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  A very well-meaning comrade called me a pluriversal Marxist with a wild smile full of English irony, while chairing my book release function in the Marx Memorial Library, London. I dedicate this piece to her… There is no other philosopher who is more abused and misunderstood like Marx. There is no other philosophy like Marxism which is more demonised on a regular basis. The mindless vilification campaign against Marx and Marxism continues without any form of reason. The propaganda and portrayal of Marxism as a devilish doctrine signify its importance as a philosophy of human emancipation from the very forces who demonise it. Marxism is a philosophy of praxis which helps us to understand the centrality of creative power of labour in producing socially meaningful value. It helps us to analyse the laws governing production, distribution, consumption, exchange, market, profit, pricing and private property in the development of class-based society. As a humanist p