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24 Feb 2017

Workers fear garden land grab

TT, Siliguri, Feb. 23: A section of workers on Goalgach Tea Estate owned by the Duncans has expressed apprehension that local miscreants, in connivance with some residents of the garden, could encroach on some portions of the plantation because of mounting dues.
Most workers in the garden are disappointed as they are yet to get wages of six months, sources said.
The garden is spread over 600 hectare and the tea is cultivated on 475 hectare.
During the crisis period of the company when most of its gardens had shut down in the Dooars, work didn't stop for a single day in Goalgach, a labourer said. "But the management did not pay us wages for four months last year. Because of acute financial crisis faced by workers, a bipartite meeting was held in October. It was decided that from then, the management would pay current wages in due time and clear the arrears in instalments from March this year and the workers agreed to the proposal" he said.
"Payment became regular and we got the wages for October and November. But we haven't been getting wages again from January," the worker said.
Wage payment is done on a monthly basis in Goalgach.
This means that workers are yet to get wages of December and January, he added.
"We have serious doubts whether the management will make payment this month. This means in another week, the wages of February will also fall due," another labourer said.
There are 1,200-odd permanent and 500 casual workers in the garden. It is located in Chopra block of North Dinajpur, 45km from here.
As the situation became worse, some miscreants have started inciting the workers to grab portions of the garden's land that is spread across six different divisions, sources said.
A source in the garden said: "We have reports that shade trees have been chopped off in some parts of the plantation and even some tea bushes have been damaged. As the land of the garden is owned by the company and is not a leasehold land, the risk is higher as the workers can be easily incited by some miscreants to forcibly take possession of the plot."
C.P. Kapoor, the superintending manager of Goalgach, said: "We understand the grievances of workers but the company has not yet come out of its crisis. We need around Rs 35 lakh to pay a month's wage in Goalgach. To ensure that workers get some money, the company has decided to pay a fortnight's wage by the end of his month. Also, from now on, wages would be paid on a fortnightly basis."
Dipak Roy, the general secretary of Trinamul Tea Plantation Workers' Union, said they were trying to maintain peace in the garden but if the management did not clear the dues immediately, situation might spin out of our control.
The management of Simulbarie Tea Estate, located near Sukna, has closed down the garden early this month after a section of workers and local miscreants prevented them from carrying out planting of sapling.

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