Skip to main content

Workers' collective successfully ran tea garden, why 'illegal' takeover?: Labour rights group

Counterview Desk 

A West Bengal tea workers’ organisation, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), has opposed an agreement recently signed between trade unions and the Merico Agro Industries Limited to “re-open” the Birpara Tea Garden in the Jateswar Division of West Bengal allegedly against the will of the tea leave pluckers, who had formed a collective to run the closed tea garden since September 2019.
Calling it “illegal takeover” of the tea garden “abandoned” by Duncans Industries, and stating that it is “nothing but theft”, PBKMS said in a statement to mark the May Day, the takeover took over despite the fact that the workers’ collective having 1,300 tea pluckers had begun receiving Rs 10 per kg for plucking leaves, earning Rs 250-300 per day during the season.
The collective started saving successfully right from September 2019. Each received an average of Rs. 11,280 as bonus from the surplus savings on October 7, 2020. They also received money for their paid leave (“saal chutti”) during the off season”, the statement said.

Text:

Gardens in the Doars have been ruined since the crisis in 2003-04 by theft. The sufferers have been ordinary workers – the women pluckers and their children who survive on the green leaves alone. The latest accusation of theft has been made against the 1,300 workers of Jateswar Division of Birpara Tea Garden. But we would like to raise the question -- who is the thief in this case?
Birpara tea garden was abandoned in 2015, to be re-opened in 2017 and then again abandoned by the Duncans Industries Ltd. In September 2019, 1,300 workers of Jateshwar Division of Birpara garden made a collective of their own to run 405 acres of the garden. 
 Since then, the workers have received Rs. 10 per kg for plucking leaves, earning Rs 250-300 per day during the season. The collective started saving successfully right from September 2019. Each received an average of Rs. 11,280 as bonus from the surplus savings on October 7, 2020. They have also 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 managing the garden. The workers are also convinced that while employers may come and go, workers would be dependent on the tea bushes for generations to come . Hence it was their responsibility to maintain and safeguard these bushes, shade trees and other garden properties. It is these responsible workers who have been called thieves.
The accusation of theft has its origins in an illegal opening agreement. On February 12 trade union leaders of 4-5 major trade unions signed an agreement with Merico Agro Industries Limited to re-open the garden on February 16, 2021. No Government official or Duncans representative has signed this agreement.
The Jateswar workers claim this reopening is illegal and they will be cheated by this so-called management. This contention is based on the following:
  • According to the High Court Order (MAT 562 of 2016) dated September 29, 2016, the Duncans Industries Limited are not allowed to sell the garden to any other owner. They are to run the garden themselves and return dues to workers.
  • Since March 5, 2021, Duncans Industries Limited has been declared bankrupt. All Duncans properties are now under a Resolution Professional and a Committee of Creditors are now considering a plan to sell Duncans properties and re-pay their creditors. Hence the garden cannot be handed over by any person to Merico Agro Industries.
  • Due to the illegality of Merico’s ownership, even a case of theft of green leaves filed by the Merico senior manager against 14 Jateswar workers was not considered valid. The ACJM (2nd Court ) Alipur Duar while giving unconditional bail to the workers arrested in this case on 26th March 2021 has questioned the locus standi of the senior manager of Merico in filing this theft case and has expressed doubts about the “authorities” who have signed the agreement handing Birpara over to Mericos. She has sternly warned the Birpara Police from filing any such illegal theft cases against Jateswar workers.
  • Workers of Jateswar and our union have been asking the management and the administration to provide us with legally valid documents of Merico’s ownership of Birpara. So far, we have not been shown even one document. No such document has been filed even in a case filed in the Circuit Bench at Jalpaiguri.
The workers therefore continue to pluck leaves and maintain the bushes, providing irrigation, fertiliser , pesticides etc. and would like to raise the question – who are the actual thieves?
Tea garden workers protest "illegal" takeover
We have seen the theft in gardens where whole buildings have been reduced to the ground, with every brick, rod and stone being stolen. We have seen a timber mafia that flourishes with the illegal cutting of shade trees in closed and open gardens, where management colluded with the mafia to make a quick buck at the cost of the employer who is in faraway Kolkata or Siliguri.
The largest theft has been by employers who have abandoned gardens without paying workers’ dues. Paschim Banga Khet Majoor is at present fighting a case in the Supreme Court for 29 such gardens where the total dues that employers have not paid amount to over Rs 350 crores. There has been theft in gratuity, where under the Labour office in Birpara alone at least 8-10,000 workers have not been paid gratuity even though they have retired 10 to 15 years ago.
Even after the direction and order of the Assistant Labour Commissioner, the management has denied to pay the gratuity money to the workers. Garden management also steals, deducting provident funds from workers but not depositing their share or the employees' share. Desperate workers agree to illegal and invalid opening agreements, where their leaders sign away all their dues and agree to payment of only daily wages for the reopening of a garden.
We are surprised by the silence of some trade unions about these huge thefts. We suspect collusion between some trade union leaders, administration and rogue employers in these thefts. Instead of accusing works who are trying to prevent the loot of their garden by an illegal owner, let us all work together to rid the gardens of the thieves who steal our gratuity and provident fund, who open gardens without legal documents and who run away with our dues and our assets without caring about our children and our survival.
Identify the real thieves. Stop the real theft!

Comments

TRENDING

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.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

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".

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen