Ajoy Edwards seeks Mamata's intervention
Darjeeling: Continuing with the indefinite hunger strike, Ajoy Edwards, president, Hamro Party, has written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking her intervention in the Kanchen View tea estate impasse. He has appealed to the Chief Minister to cancel the lease of the garden and instead build a satellite township there.
"I, on behalf of the entire workers of Kanchen View (Rangneet) would like to appeal to your kind self that in the best interest it would be reasonable for the Government to cancel the lease and develop a holistic plan of establishing a satellite township covering the entire area of the tea garden. This will not only accommodate the demands of the residents of the Garden but also solve the long pending issue pertaining to Darjeeling town expansion and decongestion," stated the letter to the Chief Minister.
Incidentally the garden located on the fringes of the Darjeeling town had been facing a lockout since October 6, 2021. After tripartite talks between operating trade unions, management and the Additional Labour Commissioner, North Bengal the garden reopened on April 15 amidst an agitation and relay hunger strike by the majority of the workforce with a 9 point charter of demands.
The Hamro Party in support of the agitation has key members including President Ajoy Edwards and his wife sitting on a hunger strike since Friday. "Since the Agarwala Group Enterprise, the present owners, took over the garden in 2008, the garden has been locked out 12 times. This clearly proves that the Agarwala Group is interested in the cheap land and not running the tea garden and the business of tea," stated Edwards in the letter.
The Hamro Party president stated that the workers welcome the Government's initiative of tea tourism but the present owners have been flouting all the norms set by the Government relating to tea tourism including the Tea Tourism and Allied Business policy 2019. As per the norms they should have NOCs from at least 10 screening committees. However till date they don't have even one," alleged Edwards.
Though the policy states that 15% of fallow, unusable land can only be used for tea tourism purposes; "Till date, as per record 22 acres of prime tea producing land has already been uprooted. There are plans to further uproot 45 acres of land to make way for buildings and access roads" alleged Edwards. The garden with around 99 workers has 223 acres under cultivation.
He stated that the present owners had given in writing that they would run the tea tourism projects by themselves but it is known to all that two private companies have been given 99 years lease of the land. The workers are apprehensive that their welfare will not be looked into under these conditions.
The district administration has appealed to the workers to withdraw the hunger strike and insisted on a meeting between the Management and workers on April 20, to resolve the issue. The workers have demanded that the meeting be held immediately, at an earlier date.