Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, May 10: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to start a movement demanding land rights for tea garden and cinchona plantation workers and minimum wages for tea estate labourers.
The party will form a 50-member committee that will have Morcha representatives and apolitical people from tea gardens and cinchona plantations, to chalk out the course of action.
The decision was taken at a meeting of members of the Morcha central committee, representatives of Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (tea and cinchona units) and elected GTA Sabha members at the Gorkha Rangamanch Bhawan today.
Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “It has been decided that a 50-member committee will be formed on May 15 to pursue the demand of land rights and minimum wages for tea garden workers. The committee will chart the future course of agitation.”
Morcha sources said this was the first time in “three-four years” that a joint meeting of the party central committee and the union leaders from gardens was held. “It is probably an outcome of opposition parties mobilising support in the hills,” said a union leader.
The hill tea gardens have around 55,000 permanent and 20,000 temporary workers and nearly 5,000 people work in the cinchona plantations.
After its formation, Harka Bahadur Chhetri’s Jana Andolan Party had laid stress on demanding land rights for tea and cinchona workers. Some JAP leaders from the Teesta Valley region in Darjeeling subdivision who took up the cause, however, joined the Morcha before the Assembly elections.
Today, Giri said: “The Left Front government had called a meeting in Calcutta on July 22, 2009, to look into the issue of granting land rights to tea garden workers. The meeting had been attended by land and land reforms commissioner and the principal secretary of commerce and industries department among others. Representative of the Consultative Committee on Plantation Associations had, however, expressed their opposition, after which the issue was not pursued. The TMC government did not hold a single meeting on this.”
Giri said the Morcha would consult legal experts to see if the GTA could grant land rights to the cinchona workers.
“The GTA Act states that matters related to settling land rights and renewing lease of cinchona plantation lies with the GTA,” he said.
Section 26 of the GTA Act says the hill body will have “administrative, financial and executive powers in the region in relation to cinchona plantation and settlement of land in possession of plantation inhabitants; management of lease of cinchona lands etc.”
The state government has formed a committee to look into the minimum wage issue.
Workers of Dooteriah tea estate, 25km from Darjeeling, have threatened to block NH55 on May 18 if the management fails to clear their dues by May 14.
“The garden is owned by Trinamul Rajya Sabha member K.D. Singh and wages have been due since January. If it is not cleared we will block NH55 at Ghoom on May 18,” said Ashok Rai, a garden employee. The estate has 1,372 labourers.