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14 Jun 2017

Hills heed tea garden strike call ... negligible impact in plains

Tea workers demonstrate on NH31D in Jalpaiguri on Tuesday. Picture by Biplab Basak
AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, June 13: The 12-hour general strike called by an apex body of trade unions over minimum wages for tea garden workers failed to create much impact in the plains, but was observed almost across the hills.
In the Dooars and Terai, over 50 per cent of the tea estates were open, while almost all gardens remained shut in the hills.
Yesterday, too, tea gardens in the plains had defied a strike called on the same issue.
In towns like Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Islampur and Malbazar, life remained normal today.
"Life was normal throughout the region, except in the hills. Most of the shops, educational institutions and government offices were open and public transport was available. Only some private buses were off the roads and a few banks were closed," a senior administrative official said.
Mohan Sharma, the president of the Cha Bagan Trinamul Congress Mazdoor Union that is not backing the call for strike, said: "Most of the tea estates were open today. Only a few workers did not join their duties, which indicate that most did not support the strike that was thrust upon them by some of the unions with a political motive."
There were, however, some stray incidents of violence.
On NH31D, on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town, police resorted to a lathi-charge to disperse 200-odd tea garden workers who had blocked the highway for over an hour. Around 35 bandh supporters were also arrested.
In Darjeeling town, the police chased away Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters who had taken out a rally.
Political observers pointed out that a part of the strike's success in the hills could be attributed to the indefinite agitation call given by the Morcha.
In Alipurduar district, around 200 bandh supporters, mostly Morcha supporters, were arrested from different locations for blocking roads.
Representatives of the Joint Forum, which had called the strike, claimed it was a success.
Ziaur Alam, the convener of the forum, said: "The state has not yet fixed minimum wages of tea workers. Also, decisions are pending on some other issues like magnetising of ration. If the state does not make any move to settle these issues soon, we will once again launch a movement."

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