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Alchemist Group tea garden in Darjeeling to stage hunger strike

Alchemist Group tea garden in Darjeeling to stage hunger strike
Workers of three hill tea gardens owned by the Alchemist Group, whose chairman emeritus is Trinamul Rajya Sabha member K.D. Singh, have threatened a hunger strike during the first flush season alleging that the group has not paid them dues of around Rs 4 crore.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha backed-Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union has said the hunger strike will be on from March 28.

Alchemist Group owns Dooteriah, Kaley Valley and Peshok tea gardens in the hills.

Today, a meeting was held between representatives of the union and the management in the assistant labour commissioner's office in Darjeeling.

"The meeting was about dues. We plan to pay them in instalments but nothing was finalised. We will hold a meeting on March 27 and our director Pawan Kumar Verma will be present," S. Bhattacharya, CEO of the group, said. "It (the due) is about Rs 4 crore."

The dues accrued over more than two years include provident funds, gratuity, rations and some fringe benefits entitled to workers.

Suraj Subba, general secretary of the Morcha union, said: "The management wanted us to sign an agreement today regarding payment of dues but we refused to do so as the CEO of the group had signed two agreements last year stating that the dues would be paid. We have said the (new) agreement would be signed only if one of the company's directors is present at the meeting."

He said: "We have agreed to sit for another round of meeting on March 27 but if there is no positive outcome, we will launch a hunger strike from March 28," said Subba. "The group is owned by a politician who wants to serve the nation but he is depriving workers of their rights."

Workers of the three estates came to the meeting venue and shouted slogans demanding payment of the dues.

The Rs 10,000 crore conglomrate was started by Singh in 1981. But in 2012, soon after his nomination to the Rajya Sabha, his son Karan Deep Singh was made the chairman of the group and K.D. Singh took the position of the chairman emeritus of the group.

Dooteriah has 1,372 workers, while Kalaj Valley and Peshok have 642 and 570, respectively.

Asked about the payment plans, Bhattacharya said it had not been finalised.

In tea industry, the first flush commands the highest price in the market and most of it is exported by the Darjeeling gardens. The season starts from February end and goes on till the end of April.

Asked if the agitation during the first flush season would affect the gardens' financial condition, Bhattacharya said: "If there is uncertainty, it could affect manufacturing and transport but we are hopeful that such a situation will not take place."

The Telegraph

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