Section of workers at Panighatta find alternate means of earning

Report by: 
Prashant Acharya
PANIGHATTA (MIRIK)
14 Mar 2017

A section of workers in Panighatta tea estate owing allegiance to the hill Trinamool Congress have started pruning tea bushes on their own even as the garden management has failed to come to the estate ever since October 10, 2015.
The workers have decided to eke out a living by selling unprocessed leaves to the nearest factories. The state government has failed to persuade the owner to return and has also not helped the workers in finding an alternative source of income despite 13 workers dying from malnutrition, they said.
The local unit of the TMC met the workers on Sunday and Monday after which nearly 80 workers began the pruning work on Tuesday morning. Hill TMC president Rajen Mukhia said a decision was taken by some of the workers to maintain the garden and sell green leaves. He said the area BDO and SDO have been informed of the development.
Mukhia said, "This is a temporary measure as we are waiting for the owner to reopen the garden. But if that doesn't happen, we will find another owner soon."
When reminded that the TMC had failed to get the garden functioning despite being at the helm, he said, "The garden was sick and the owner did not have the money to pay the huge sums due to the workers. When the state government pressurised the owner, he paid half a month's salary to the staff and two weeks' wages to the workers before shutting down work.
"The workers' problems have been partly alleviated by the state government's food grain relief package for the last two years, and now they have started pruning the bushes, keeping them free of weed and undergrowth. They want to sell the leaves in the new season to earn for their family," said Kishore Pradhan, the local TMC trade union president, who was leading the team for the pruning work.
He said the pruning will continue daily from 7am to 10am until the entire 11.5 acres of garden area is completed.
Meanwhile, the ruling party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU) did not join saying they haven't receives any instructions from the party's higher ups.
Harihar Acharya, Terai in-charge of the DTDPLU, said, "We have nothing to say on what the TMC is doing and we don’t' have any objection either. Our party has called a meeting on Wednesday afternoon here. We will go with the workers' decision for their welfare.
Biraj Mukhia, DTDPLU Panighatta unit secretary, said, " Why can't they (hill TMC leaders) put pressure on their party chief Mamata Banerjee? If the government can allot crores of funds for dividing Gorkhas in the hills in the name of development, why can't the chief minister help us poor tea workers?"
There are about 1,800 workers in the garden altogether and most of them are GJM supporters.
Panighatta tea garden was closed on October 10, 2015 without the workers getting their pooja bonus, gratuity, rations of 31 weeks and Rs2.5 crore in provident fund.
The garden was established in 1820 and once was one of the most productive gardens. At present 15,000kg of tea leaves (processed and unprocessed) are rotting in the garden.