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16 May 2017

Note crunch triggers gherao

TT, May 15: The effects of demonetisation drive continue to bother the tea industry of north Bengal as most gardens still lack necessary banking infrastructure.
Today, the manager of Diana Tea Estate near Banarhat in Jalpaiguri district was forced to walk out of the garden's factory and confined for four hours by workers because of non-payment of wages.
Lack of adequate notes of smaller denominations in the Banarhat branch of a bank where the garden maintains its accounts led to the delay in the wage payment.
Earlier, the management had offered payment in Rs 2,000 notes or in coins but the workers refused.
The gherao that had started around 7am was withdrawn at 11am after the manager had promised immediate disbursal of wages. With the help of local police, they could get notes of lower denominations from the bank and disbursed wages in the afternoon.
Sudarshan Babbar, the garden's manager, was at the factory when the workers assembled there. They were supposed to join duties but instead, they approached the manager and asked him when the wages would be paid. As Babbar tried to explain to them the situation, the workers got agitated and forced him to walk out of the factory.
"None of the workers joined their duties or in other words, there was a strike-like situation in the garden today, for no fault of the management. The management had to bear a day's loss in production, that too, during the peak season," a source said.
Although Babbar refused comment, S. Guhathakurta, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association, expressed the apprehension that similar problems might crop up in other gardens also.
He said most tea estates had switched to online mode of wage payment as directed by the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India.
The tea industry was assured that banks would set up appropriate infrastructure like ATMs and extension counters in each tea garden so that workers could withdraw money and needed not to go outside.
"However, in many gardens, including Diana, although space was given by the management to set up ATMs, banks have failed to do so. As a result, workers started insisting that they be paid in cash. A section of gardens like Diana was forced to revert to the old system of wage payment in cash disbursal," Guhathakurta said.
He said another problem was that there was a shortage of currency of lower denominations at local banks.

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