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10 Dec 2016

After jute mill, tea garden shuts down over note shortage

Pramod Giri, HT, 10 Dec 2016, SILIGURI: Four days after a jute mill in south Bengal downed shutters citing non-availability of cash, a tea garden of north Bengal suspended its operations on Friday citing the same reason, rendering around 1,500 workers jobless. About 2,500 workers lost their jobs on Monday when Howrah’s Sree Hanuman Jute Mills shut shop.
There are 3.5 lakh tea garden workers across north Bengal and all get paid in cash every week or fortnight. The Tirrihannah Tea Estate in Naxalbari block of Darjeeling district, which shut down, has its head office in Kolkata. Senior company officials said they were forced to suspend work after workers turned restive because of delay in payment. The last time they got their wages was on November 25. They returned empty-handed on the next pay day, which was Wednesday.
The crisis prompted the workers to stop dispatch of tea from the factory. They also allegedly heckled the manager on Wednesday. All management employees at the garden abandoned the estate on Thursday night.
However, Aloke Chakraborty, general secretary of Terai branch of National Union of Plantation Workers, said, “Demonetization is a major problem but many tea garden managements have a habit of defaulting on payments on various pretexts.” Abhijit Majumdar, working president of Terai Sangrami Cha Sramik Union, said, “The management of this estate was at default in making regular payments ever since Durga Puja in October.” Sumit Ghosh, the secretary of Tea Association of India (TAI), said the company is a member of the association but no one had informed the TAI about the decision to suspend operations. “We have not been able to contact the manager of the tea estate, Amlan Kusum Gorai,” Ghosh said.
HT’s efforts to contact Gorai also failed.
Many tea planters echoed Gorai’s views, “Unless sufficient cash is made available, many more tea gardens will be forced to close down over the next few weeks,” a senior tea garden official said on condition of anonymity.
Incidentally, the manager had written to the State Bank of India’s Bengdubi branch on November 14, warning that a law and order situation was a distinct possibility unless sufficient cash was made available to the management for paying wages.
Incidentally, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been the most vocal opponent of the demonetisation decision. The big bang closure of two industrial units in the state within a few days is bound to fuel her anger and vindicate her stand against the Narendra Modi government. However, joint labour commissioner Samir Kumar Bose said, “We are keeping a close watch on the tea gardens. The workers and the trade unions have been very cooperative till now… In this particular case, whether the suspension of work was triggered by unavailability of cash or unavailability of the company’s own funds is still not clear.”

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