TT, Siliguri, July 14: G.P. Goenka, the non-executive chairman of the ailing Duncans Goenka Group, has visited five of the company’s gardens in the Terai and the Dooars.
Sources at the gardens said this was the first time in the past one-and-a-half years that Goenka had visited the gardens, where normal activities had come to a halt in the middle of last year.
Goenka, seven of whose gardens were acquired by the Centre, went to Bagracote, Nagaisuri and Kilcott gardens in the Dooars on July 12 and a Terai garden and another in Chopra today.
Labour unions, whom Goenka did not meet, complained that their grievances were not heard out. Goenka only met tea garden management officials.
“The chairman’s visit is significant as in recent times, he has not visited any of the gardens. In the past two days, he toured five tea estates of our group, spoke to the managerial team in detail on an array of issues and assured each of us that the company is serious about reviving each garden,” C.P. Kapoor, a superintending manager in charge of three tea estates, said today.
“His visit has boosted the morale of the managerial staff as well as the workers. We believe they are eager to deliver their best to ensure that each garden starts operating to its optimum capacity and the pending problems such as workers’ dues are resolved in due course,” he added.
Activities at the 14 tea estates of the Duncans Goenka Group in north Bengal turned irregular in April last year after the management stopped clearing the workers’ dues.
By June last year, activities came to halt in most of Duncans gardens, with the workers turning jobless. By August, deaths from alleged malnutrition were reported in some gardens.
As the gardens could not pay their employees, in January-end, the central government announced that it would acquire seven tea estates of the group, all located in Alipurduar district, by invoking the Tea Act.
Two more months passed and from March this year, the company started clearing some of the dues of the workers in the remaining seven tea estates, which the Centre has not acquired.
Gradually, plucking started and the factories became operational one after another.
“We have, however, a long way to go. In these days, production is on in all the seven gardens but in most gardens, it is down by 30 per cent to 40 per cent. In the three gardens which are under my supervision, we are producing around three lakh kg tea in a month,” Kapoor said.
“The problem is that around 40 per cent permanent workers have not joined their duties till date. So, we could not carry out plucking in the entire plantation. Also, works like removing weeds from tea plantations and other maintenance tasks are due,” he added.
Goenka’s visit has, however, evoked a different reaction from workers and trade union leaders.
“We are disappointed that the chairman did not meet any worker or even the local trade union leaders. We could have apprised him of several issues pertaining to the workforce and the garden as a whole,” Laurantus Kerketta, a local trade union leader of Bagracote, said.