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Darjeeling Alchemist Group tea garden workers to stage relay hunger strike from April 6

Alchemist Group tea garden Darjeeling
Workers of the three tea gardens in Darjeeling owned by the Alchemist Group of India on Friday announced their decision to stage a relay hunger strike from April 6 in demand of a number of rights. They threatened to intensify the agitation if their pleas fell on deaf ears. This comes after the meeting called today by the assistant labour commissioner to resolve the workers’ issues failed to make any headway due to the absence of the head of the Alchemist Group.
Suraj Subba, general secretary of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union that is affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said, “The assistant labour commissioner had called the trade union and the managing director of the Alchemist Group for a meeting today. But the MD failed to turn up citing ill health. Hence, we have decided to stage a relay hunger strike in the three tea gardens from April 6 after a public meeting a day before in Dhotray.”
The DTDLU had threatened to start an agitation in the three gardens after a meeting on March 19 failed to yield results. “We have held talks with the management several times but there has been no concrete result. We had hoped the March 19 meeting would be fruitful. But the company MD did not turn up and sent a representative who did not have the power to negotiate an agreement. If the next meeting fails we will go on a fast onto death agitation,” said Subba.
He said two years’ dues payable to the workers of Dhotray, Kalej Valley and Peshok tea gardens have mounted to as much as Rs4.50 crore. This includes provident fund and gratuity, funds for ration, firewood, kuccha houses, including medicine and leave travel allowances. Subba said the management released some money under the ration head a couple of days ago. “I do not have the exact figure but I have been told the management has allotted some funds to the workers for their rations,” he said.
As per tea garden rules, workers are entitled to 1kg of rice and 1.50kg of wheat flour per day. The prices of the two commodities have been fixed at 47 paisa per kg under government subsidy. The three gardens are spread across 756 hectares of plantation land and produce orthodox and china tea that are exported to countries such as Germany, Austria, Singapore, the UAE and the US. Dhotray tea garden has 1,200 workers while Kalej Valley and Peshok have 642 and 570, respectively. The three gardens collectively produce about 450,000kg of tea leaves annually.
Assistant labour commissioner Neel Chhetri said Friday’s meeting had to be postponed because Alchemist Group managing director Pawan Kumar Verma is not keeping well. “Representatives of the trade union  turned up for the meeting. But Mr Verma faxed me a note stating he had a severe backache and would not be able to attend. I have proposed to the two sides another meeting on April 9,” he said.
Neither the managing director nor the management of the Alchemist Group could be contacted for comments on the agitation called by the workers. (EOIC)

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