Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Nov 07, 2003
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Corporate - Trade & Labour Unions
19 burnt alive in Bengal tea estate dispute
Kolkata Nov. 6
NINETEEN people were burnt alive on Thursday morning at the Dalgaon Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri district following an altercation over appointment of personnel.
All bodies, including those of the two women, were completely charred and their identities could not be established.
The West Bengal IG (Law and order) told newspersons at the State Secretariat that the altercation at the house of a tea garden employee, Mr T. Lohar - who was also the secretary of the CITU-affiliated Chabagan Mazdoor Union - was triggered by the appointment of three clerks whom he had hired from outside.
This was resented by a section of workers who demanded that these appointments be made from among the garden employees.
The firing of a shot on the 50-strong crowd from inside the house injured one of the workers.
As rumours over his condition spread across the garden, the incensed workers returned and reportedly attacked the inmates of the house with swords before setting the entire house on fire.
The injured worker, Mr Donik Kachua (22), is now recovering at a Jalpaiguri hospital.
Mr Lohar and his family escaped unhurt; the police arrested him later during the day. Altogether 106 persons, including 25 women, have been arrested.
The State Agriculture Minister, Mr Kamal Guha, said that the entire incident was a fallout of the internal bickering in the CITU union. He said that those killed were most probably securitymen of Mr Lohar who was removed recently from his union post.
The incident has brought to fore the explosive situation in the tea gardens in West Bengal and the Chief Minister would do well to convene a meeting soon so that matters do not go out of control, he added.
The Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said that he would be able to comment on the incident only after getting a complete report.
The Dalgaon Tea Estate belongs to the city-based tea company, R.N.T. Plantations. It is a proprietary garden owned by the Tantias. The company has two other gardens located in Lankhwa and Khona, both in upper Assam.
The Dalgaon Tea Estate produces 11 lakh kg of tea per annum. The company does not own any packet tea brand. All its produce is sold through auction houses.
Speaking to Business Line, Mr Inder Holani, Company Secretary of R.N.T. Plantations, said that it was a matter of "intra-union rivalry". He claimed that the overall relationship between the workers and the management was always "cordial".
"We are one of the best gardens in Dooars. We are regular in payments. The garden has no history of industrial dispute. It is sad that such an incident has taken place in our garden."
According to sources, there is only one union among the 1,500-strong workforce of Dalgaon Tea Estate.
Of some 200 tea gardens in the Dooars region (Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts), about 20 are lying closed.
Though law and order problems are being reported regularly from the tea gardens in Assam, Dooars was more or less calm, except for an incident in August this year when the Deputy Manager of Changamari Tea Estate was hacked to death.
The last such gruesome incident in the Dooars took place in 1993 when 13 people were killed in a fight between the supporters of CITU and INTUC unions.
Sources said that though the central leadership of the trade unions is more affable, their wings in the local gardens are more militant.
The CITU office in the city preferred not to comment on the issue.
According to an official spokesperson of CITU, the trade union is still investigating the incident.
The two leading bodies of the tea garden owners, Indian Tea Association and Tea Association of India, also did not issue any statement saying that it was a "local intra-union problem" and has nothing to do with the overall tea industrial scenario.
Stories in this Section
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |
Copyright © 2003, The
Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of
The Hindu Business Line