EOI, Darjeeling, 15 May 2016: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU) today formed a 102-member committee to look into the demand of ‘parcha patta’ (land rights) to workers of tea gardens and the cinchona plantation in the hills.
A total of 87 gardens in the hills produce premium tea and they have a workforce of 55,000, while cinchona is cultivated in more than 26,000 hectares of land. Inevitability, land rights is a contagious issue and continues to remain a long pending demand in the Darjeeling hills.
The demand has been pursued by the GJM ever since its formation in 2007, but the party has not secured the required impetus for the issue given its preoccupation over the years with the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. But now, analysts observed that the GJM’s current thrust on the parcha patta demand is because of the recently formed Jan Andolan Party led by rebel leader Harka Bahadur Chhetri.
“We had raised the issue with the CPM-led government in 2009-2010 and it had gained the right momentum then. However, there were certain clauses that we did not accept and by 2011, a new government had come to power in Bengal. The new government failed to take up the demand then,” claimed Suraj Subba, the DTDPLU general secretary when asked for the delay in raising the demand.
According to Subba, the erstwhile state government had consented to given only 5 decimals of land to tea workers and this was unacceptable to the trade union, which wanted land rights not only for the workers but also for all the residents of the tea gardens. “The workers are not landless. We have the land but we do require documents,” he said.
Today, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabhasads from the tea and cinchona belts held a meeting to discuss the issue and formed the Janmukti Parcha Patta Sangharsh Committee (JPPSC) to study and take forward the demand in earnest.
“There are several issues in relation to the land rights that need to be looked into seriously. One of them is the issue of Parliament act, lease and land requisition that requires amendments. As this needs time and manpower, we have formed such a huge committee,” said Subba.
The JPPSC has also formed a 13-member policy-making committee comprising senior central committee leaders of the GJM. Of the total 102 members, about 60 are from the tea sector while 42 will represent the cinchona plantation. The committee will communicate with Bengal after a new government is formed and collect land classification and other documents pertaining to the parcha patta demand.
“We will collect all relevant documents that are with the state government, what we have placed over the years. We will organise awareness programmes and educate the peopleon the demand once the election process is over. In fact, we will base our demand of land rights as per a clause in the GTA agreement and act that affirms the issue has been transferred to the hill body,” informed Gopal Ruchal, the GTA Sabhasad from Mungsong, and president of the cinchona sector committee.