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Asserting that the two-day strike at various tea gardens in north Bengal was successful, leaders of central trade unions on Tuesday said they would organise a bigger movement if their demands were not met by the Centre and state government.
“The two-day strike at tea gardens in north Bengal was successful. Similar exercise will be followed if our demands are not met by central and state governments,” said state Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) president Subhas Mukherjee. Demanding payment of wages as per Minimum Wages Act, and benefits as per Food Securities Act for tea garden workers, the Joint Forum of Trade Unions — an umbrella organisation of 24 central and state trade unions — gave the call for the strike.
Tea production took a hit during the two-day strike, and the industry is expected to lose around Rs 10 crore. Zia-ul-Alam, secretary of the joint forum, told PTI that almost 300 tea gardens in Terai and Dooars were closed. The strike was also observed at 45 tea gardens in Darjeeling, he said.
The impact was felt in Alipurduar, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri as well as parts of Cooch Behar, Mathabhanga, Mekhliganj and Islampur block of North Dinajpur, PTI reported. The shutdown’s effects were also felt in Birpara, Mal, Nagrakata, Banarhat, Naxalbari, Kumargram, Kalchini and Madarihat. Around 215 people were detained at Hasimara, a police officer told PTI. Around 200 workers in Denguajhar and Karala Valley tea gardens had put up a blockade at Goshala More on NH-31 in Jalpaiguri town, PTI said. A team led by Additional Superintendent of Police Indira Mukherjee tried to persuade them to lift the roadblock, but failed. SP Amitava Maity later reached the spot with reinforcements.
After attempts to persuade protesters failed, officers resorted to lathicharge. Thirty-four persons were arrested from the spot, PTI quoted the SP as saying. In response, CITU’s state president said: “Tomorrow, our workers will organise protest rallies at north Bengal tea gardens to condemn today’s police atrocities on our workers.”
CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra tweeted: “Police lathicharged on tea garden workers in Jalpaiguri. Male police attacked women. Many injured, organizers arrested. Protest everywhere.” The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which has given a call for a shutdown of government offices in Darjeeling hills, supported the tea union’s strike. The state government responded by saying the strike at tea gardens had encouraged the GJM to continue its protest.
Mukherjee (CITU) responded by saying the workers’ strike had been proposed much earlier. “The decision to hold strikes at tea gardens in north Bengal was taken a long time back, before the agitation broke out in the hills. Such claims hold no water,” he said.