Centre asks Tea Board to take over Duncan gardens

Centre asks Tea Board to take over Duncan gardens

Unions say political move aimed at saving Goenka

Centre asks Tea Board to take over Duncan gardens
The Central government has asked the Tea Board to take over seven gardens owned by Duncan Industries in view of their deteriorating conditions.

The gardens, across Dooars region of North Bengal, have been closed for almost 10 months, leading to death of several workers, reportedly owing to malnutrition and failure to afford medical care.

“The Central government hereby authorises the Tea Board to take immediate steps to take over the management or control of the above seven tea estates as per the provisions of Chapter III-A of the Tea Act, 1953 (29 of 1953),” the notification said.

It pointed out that representations from various stake-holders intimated the Union Ministry of Commerce & Industries about deteriorating conditions in tea gardens of Bengal, “…in particular the tea gardens owned and managed by Duncan Industries Ltd.”

The memo pointed out that the decision was taken after the Union ministry concluded that Duncan gardens are being run in a manner that is “highly detrimental” to both the tea industry and public interest.

The gardens under contention are Birpara, Garganda, Lankapara, Tulsipara, Hantapara, Dhumchipara and Demdima.

The decision is based on reports given by Tea Board and the state government, following consultations with stakeholders, the memo said.

Owned by top industrialist G P Goenka, Duncan has 14 gardens at Dooars, which are officially operational, but have been ailing since early 2015, with workers’ wages and statutory benefits pending for months.

The gardens in question employ nearly 17,000 employees and have annual production capacity of around 10 million kg. Despite several attempts, Goenka could not be contacted for comments.

Abhijit Majumdar from one of the leading Dooars tea workers’ unions, however, raised questions over the decision, claiming that the move will provide Goenka a way out from taking responsibilities or bearing onus of clearing workers’ dues.

 He also questioned abilities of the Board, which reportedly has not held a single meeting in the past year, calling it “ill-equipped” to handle day-to-day running of the gardens.

“The Tea Board is essentially a regulatory body. If the government was actually looking for proper results, management responsibility should have gone to Andre Yule (public sector tea major) instead,” Majumdar said.

He, along with other unions, believes the BJP-led Central government and the Trinamool government at the state are providing political cover to Goenka and owners of such gardens.

Incidentally, the statement announcing the Centre’s decision came from state BJP unit, which hailed it as a “bold step against defaulting garden owners”.

Majumdar alleged that with nearly 40 per cent of 11 lakh voters in Dooars being tea workers and their dependents, both BJP and Trinamool Congress will be using their plight as election issues in the forthcoming Assembly polls.

“There will be no real action against the likes of Goenka, who have always got away with such acts,” Majumdar said.
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