TEA NEWS: Ramjhora takeover after 8 years – Job-for-all boost to dooars garden opening – and what happened to the poor over the past 8 years, went from poor to poorer under Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY
Ramjhora Tea Estate, Oct. 8: Five days before the Durga Puja and eight years after it was declared closed, the Ramjhora Tea Estate is set to reopen tomorrow with the new management announcing jobs for one person each from the 846 household in the garden.
With the opening of Ramjhora, the number of closed gardens in the Dooars will now come down to seven. A stiff resistance to retrenchment by the labour unions had prevented the take-over of the estate for several years. Hind Tea Company, the new owner of the garden, has promised to absorb all the 1,103 workers in five years.
A buzz of activity was evident on the estate, one of the 158 registered gardens in the Dooars and located 72km from Alipurduar town. The last owners of the garden, Hanuman Tea Company, had hung a closure notice on the garden gate on August 11, 2002. A cleaning spree before tomorrow’s opening ceremony was on.
“We are too busy to talk. You can see the state the entrance to the garden is in. We have to work fast so that everything is ready for the new owners and we want to create a good impression. We only demand wage and ration and we will ensure that all of us cooperate with the new owner and make the garden productive,” said Etwa Oraon, who along with others, was busy uprooting weeds and vines that had been shrouding the main gate, ignoring the heavy rain.
According to Ramesh Sharma, the leader of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, several companies had approached the Jalpaiguri district administration and the trade unions to take over Ramjhora but no agreement could be reached because of labourers’ resistance to retrenchment.
“The agreement signed with Hind Tea Co says one member each from the 846 households will be absorbed into the workforce initially. There are 1,103 workers in all, and the rest will be absorbed within five years. There will be no retrenchment,” Sharma said.
The new owner has also promised to distribute Rs 500 each to the 846 workers tomorrow. “However, all the 1,103 workers will continue to get the Rs 1,500 a month under the central Financial Assistance for Workers of Locked-out Industries scheme. They will also be entitled to 100 days work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,” Sharma said. He said those who had left the garden to seek work elsewhere would be given a month’s time to return.
“More than 300 people died in our garden during the closure and about 200 have left for work elsewhere. The new owner has appealed to us not to demand much as he has to invest a large sum of money to restore the factory and the garden. Recently we received Rs 6,000 each under the central assistance and we have contributed Rs 50 each to arrange for a Durga Puja. We hope that the new owner will also give some amount for the festival,” Sharma said.
Narendra Barelia, who has bought the garden, said most of the tea bushes at Ramjhora were more than 50 years old and needed to be replaced.
“Each year we plan to plant new bushes on 25 hectares. The garden has 465 hectares. There is hardly any shade tree and the number of productive tea bushes is also low. We need the workers’ cooperation to turn around the garden and the factory. We hope that in five years, we will be able to achieve full production capacity,” he said.
According to sources in the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association (DBITA), Barelia has taken over four closed gardens in the Dooars in the past one year. One of them is Kanthalguri, which he has taken over in partnership with Makaibari Tea Estate, Jogesh Chandra, Shikarpur-Bhandarpur and Ramjhora. DBITA sources said Barelia had also been running the Atiabari Tea Estate for over 15 years.