Bengal: Tea garden owner killed over wage dispute

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Nov 23, 2014 00:53 IST

Rajesh Jhunjhunwala, a tea garden owner in his mid-50s, was allegedly stoned and clubbed to death Saturday by irate workers over non-payment of wages for the past two months near Malbazar in Jalpaiguri, more than 500 kms to the north of Kolkata.

Though it was not known whether the workers were ruling party supporters, the dominant union in the garden is affiliated to INTTUC, the labour arm of the Trinamool Congress.

The incident came barely five months after Hari Kusum Maheshwari, the 60-year old CEO of Northbrook Jute Mill in Bhadreswar, was lynched by irate workers when he tried to argue with them over the problem of excess productivity.

Jhunjhunwala was chased inside the garden and thrashed with whatever the workers could lay their hands on – sticks, bricks and stones. In the afternoon, the workers had gheraoed him, demanding immediate payment of due wages. He died on the spot.

The incident happened between 4 and 4:15 pm.

“The police super and sub-divisional officer rushed to the spot. A case has been launched. Those behind the incident will certainly be punished,” labour minister Malay Ghatak told HT.

“Six persons were arrested after the incident,” said an officer of Malbazar police station. Police officials told HT, since the early-80s there has not been such an incident in the tea industry of Dooars and Darjeeling despite a long history of non-payment of wages and benefits.

The incident will add to the worries of the state government that is battling poor investor interest in West Bengal due to a variety of reasons.

The tea industry in Dooars (foothills of Himalayas) is going through a rough patch with frequent allegations of deaths due to malnutrition. At present, six of the 154 gardens are closed.

Industry sources told HT discontent was brewing in the garden for a long time. The worker did not get rations, medical allowances and even statutory dues such as provident fund and gratuity.

There was similarity in the gruesomeness in the June 15 incident at Northbrook Jute Mill and Saturday’s violence in Dooars. On June 15, Maheswari was hit on the head with rods and bricks inside the factory premises by the workers who also manhandled the general manager (works) and the chief security officer of the mill. Maheswari died on the way to hospital.

Incidentally, in an incident of worker violence in 2001 in Baranagar Jute Mill, two officers were killed.

Sonali is a small garden that does not have a factory of its own. It sold tea leaves to other factories that processed it.

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