Harka Bahadur Chhetri to raise tea & cinchona land rights demand

Harka Bahadur Chhetri
Harka Bahadur Chhetri has decided to raise the issue of granting land rights to tea garden and cinchona plantation workers in the hills, a move which is likely to increase his sphere of his influence beyond Kalimpong.
Chhetri, who didn't obey Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung's directive to resign as the Kalimpong MLA and instead quit the party, has till date found support largely in the Kalimpong subdivision with his demand for upgrading the subdivision into a district.
Chhetri's decision to raise the land right demand has the potential to challenge the Morcha even in Kurseong and Darjeeling subdivisions where 80 of the 87 tea gardens in the hills are located.
The Kalimpong legislator told The Telegraph over the phone today: "We have decided to form a parja patta (land right) committee and by December-end, we will organise meetings in Darjeeling and Kurseong. The dates have not been finalised. We want land rights for workers and their families in tea gardens and cinchona plantations."
Chhetri said he had already spoken to top state government officials on the demand informally and the response had been positive. "The Gorkhaland slogan is a grand one and it has swept away all other basic issues since the mid-80s," said the MLA.
The Morcha's major support base lies in the tea gardens and the cinchona plantations where more than 70 percent of the hill population resides.
Tea gardens' land is leased out by the state government to individuals or companies and the lease has to be renewed every 30 years. The state is the owner of the tea gardens' land. However, the workers and their families who have been residing in tea plantations for generations since the 1850s do not have land rights.
In the past, the Morcha and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM) have raised the land right demand but it has never been turned into a major movement in the hills.
The cinchona plantations are under the directorate of cinchona and medicinal plantation, which is a state undertaking. Like in tea gardens, the workers of cinchona plantations have no land rights.
Chhetri who is known to be close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, hasn't taken up the land right issue with her.
Told about Chhetri's land right demand, Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha, said: "It has always been our cause and he is only trying to hijack it. Our trade union is consistently raising the land right issue. (TT)

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