DIBRUGARH, March 16 - Penury-stricken plantation workers of Shalmari tea estate on Wednesday found a new lease of life after Jainex Tea Company Private Limited agreed to revive it and also own the financial liabilities of the plantation.
The workers, who have for long been knocking at the doors of the administration for revival of the plantation after its owner, Annanda Tea Company Private Limited, abandoned it in a dilapidated state without their knowledge, on Wednesday formally invited the new company to take over the garden. The workers signed a memorandum before the Assistant Labour Commissioner Kanpai Das in the latter�s office in the presence of the company�s director Pratap Kochar and others.
Jainex Tea Company Private Limited was authorised to take over the properties of Annanda Tea Company Private Limited by the Assam Cooperative Apex Bank Limited, which had taken over the possession of the properties.
The meeting between the workers and officials of the new company was presided over by Assistant Labour Commissioner. Gobordhan Lohar, representative of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) also attended the meeting. A preliminary meeting between the workers and the Assistant Labour Commissioner was held on Tuesday following which the meeting with the new company was scheduled on Wednesday.
The new company has agreed to pay wages, bonus and provide other facilities relevant under Plantation Labour Act to the workers. The company officials have also asked for the documents of Provident Fund and Gratuity pending against each worker from the then clerks for initiating the settlement procedures, Das told The Assam Tribune.
It may be recalled here that several plots of the plantation was given away to a few local money lenders without the knowledge of the workers by the previous employers between 2002 and 2006. The workers had protested, but this snowballed into a communal conflict between the nearby money lenders and the workers. The situation then blew into a major clash between two communities, which had compelled the police to set up a police camp within the garden for about a month.
In the wake of the conflict, the district administration and the police had called all the conflicting parties, including the director of Annada Tea Company Private Limited, for a meeting. The meeting, presided over by the then Additional Deputy Commissioner PK Rajkhowa, held the tea company responsible for the law-and-order problem in the area. Stating that the conflict between the workers and outsiders would not have arisen had the plantation plots were not transferred illegally to some 60 different money lenders of the area, Rajkhowa had asked the company to settle the issues with the money lenders mutually. It, however, remained unsolved.
From 2007 to till date there has been practically no management in the garden and, therefore, there is no record of any wages, bonus or Provident Fund or Gratuity etc. The district administration is also yet to recover some Rs 39,81759 lakh under a Bakijai case from the period 2002 to 2006 from the plantation. On April 8, 2012, the workers had set up a committee to manage the garden on their own but were unable to engage workers or pay them during the off season. Given the state of affairs of the plantation, several workers and their dependants have left the garden. The plantation workers and their families have pinned their hopes that the new employers would able to revive and develop the garden.