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Mamata Banerjee Calls For Peace in The Hills; Estate owners grapple with Stakes

Darjeeling tea estate, Kurseong, Tripartite talks, Mamata Banerjee, Normalcy, Consensus, Bonus, Binay Tamang, Anit Thapa, Tea Gardens, Goodricke.


In yet another attempt to bring back peace in the hills, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday, ordered the reopening of 87 tea estates, something that the ordinary people had been waiting for a long time to happen. She said that the tea gardens are the backbone of a commercial network in the hills, incurring a lot of losses due to the ongoing shutdown in the hills region. It seems that the TMC government has finally managed to cause a rift in the GJM leadership locking her terms to bring normalcy back in the hills.

This turn of events occurred as the consequence of the meeting between two rebel GJM leaders-Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa at the Chief Minister’s administrative headquarters at Nabanna.

This development also came in the wake of the talks between the expelled GJM leader Binay Tamang and the tea garden officials to resume business with an assurance of tranquility after the gardens open.

“Today three tea gardens reopened. We are hopeful that more tea gardens will reopen in the days to come,” a senior police official said.

Tea gardens are the main source of bringing peace back in the hills. Some tea gardens have opened despite threats from pro-Gorkhaland agitators leading to shutdown and reopening under police vigilance.

Amid a lot of skepticism, around 20 % of the shops lifted their shutters partially in Kurseong and sold their wares for the first time in 96 days of the ongoing strike. “Traders like us have suffered the most as we could not sell anything. The shop shutter and lock have become rusty. But I have decided to open my shop now,” said a shoe shop owner in Kurseong.

At the meeting on Monday Mamata Banerjee clarified that this time she will crack down on the issue of pending bonus for tea workers. She said,  “Our chief secretary has told garden owners to resolve the pending bonus issue and open gardens, or else, we will have to take action. I don’t want to take any serious action (against owners) as I believe they can be instrumental in solving the problem at the next tripartite meeting. We reached this decision following a meeting with all stakeholders, owners, associations, staff unions and political parties,”.

The state’s Chief Secretary Moloy Dey has scheduled a tripartite meeting on 21st September in Siliguri with the stakeholders, to reach a consensus on the payment of bonus and resume work in the 87 tea gardens of the hill state. The meeting will also be presided by the state labor commissioner to give advice on the percentage of bonus approval.

According to statistics revealed the tea gardens have suffered a loss of over Rs 350 crore since their shutdown in June.

Secretary-General of Indian Tea Association, Arijit Raha said,  “we will definitely find to sort a solution despite huge crop loss this year and we have faith in our CM’s ability to fix the bonus issue.” Experts say that though they believe that the outcome of the tripartite talks will be positive still some questions remain crucial like, who will make the book? what will happen to the clerk’s and office bearer’s safety? Payment of bonus also depends on the allocable surplus of the tea gardens account.

While Dooars and Terai have settled over a bonus payment of 19.75 %, Darjeeling and Kurseong tea estate deny the ability to pay even the minimum level of 8.33 % bonus to their labors.

Good news is that 70 out of the 212 workers of Goodricke group’s Springside division of Castleton Tea estate resumed work on Monday.

As the dust settles in the hills and hopes hang high, it’s time for the tea estate owner to roll their sleeves and crunch the number for their stakes.

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