Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Darjeeling after a long gap has gained significance at a time when the state labour department has finally settled through a tripartite meeting a two-part payment of Puja bonus for tea workers, a senior political leader in the Hills said today.

“It was unfortunate that the tea plantation workers had to spend the Dashain festival without the bonus this year. The tripartite meeting ultimately decided a 60:40 percent formula. While this formula also seems to have failed to satisfy all sections and differences of opinion among trade unions have surfaced recently and politics is being played by different parties around it,” former Kalimpong MLA, Dr Harka Bahadur Chettri said.

Dr Chettri, who is also the president of the All India Jan Andolan Party (AIJAP), added that Miss Banerjee’s visit has gained significance against this backdrop. “It is being hoped that she would declare something that satisfies tea garden workers and thus put an end to dirty politics that is being played at their cost,” he said.

Dr Chettri, who was once close to Miss Banerjee, claimed: “People are fed up with the empty promises made by their representatives and are looking forward to a resolution to this imbroglio. In addition to this, there is also the issue of land documents to be given to tea garden workers, which Miss Banerjee had promised during the last election campaign. Though her party lost, power to resolve this issue still lies with her.”

“If she addresses these two issues, they would be a major step forward in building confidence. It would also expose the BJP, which has played with the people’s sentiment for Gorkhaland to simply win elections in the last 10 years,” Dr Chettri said. According to him, if Miss Banerjee will take such steps is a million dollar question and that she alone can answer this. “But we hope that she makes such declarations and make this trip worth remembering for the people of Darjeeling,” he added.

On the other hand, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader and one of the think-tanks of the party, Ajoy Edwards, said that they welcome the chief minister as the weather is also very good at present. “The mountains are also clear, and she will enjoy her Darjeeling trip as she is coming here after losing two elections,” he said.

Our appeal is that she should not go for any shortcut solutions for Darjeeling or any bandage policies by paying money or constituting development boards. Corruption has gone up in the Hills owing to such shortcut solutions and some problem comes after every two or three years,” Mr Edwards said, adding, “We would appeal to the chief minister to think about an LTPPS (Long Term Permanent Political Solution) for a better Darjeeling.”

On the differences of opinion among trade unions on the issue of bonus payment, Mr Edwards said his party’s stand was clear.

Asked to comme*/88nt on the allegations that the GNLF-backed trade union failed to honour the tripartite agreement, he said: “Workers were unhappy with the decision of part payment of the bonus as they were apprehending that the management would not pay the remaining part if they accept the 12 percent now. They wanted to receive a one-time payment and agreed to wait till 15 November.”

“Secondly, our partybacked trade union leaders reacted to political interference as they came to know that GJMM leader Anit Thapa phoned labour minister Moloy Ghatak during negotiations and planters agreed to pay 20 percent. Thapa suggested him to settle the matter in two installments as Binoy Tamang, who was on a fast-unto-death, demanding 20 percent bonus, was in critical condition,” Mr Edwards said. According to him, the party should not interfere as the trade unions have been assigned to settle the matter.

“Thirdly, we have not asked tea workers, who belong to our party’s trade union, not to accept the first instalment. Many workers, belonging to our trade union, received the 12 percent part bonus in all nine gardens, where the managements paid yesterday,” Mr Edward added.

“We plan to a write to the authorities concerned, including state labour minister Moloy Ghatak, appealing them to fix the date of the next tripartite meeting in November to ensure the remaining 8 percent bonus is paid as soon as possible,” he said.

Sources said managements in all the gardens in the Hills have started paying the bonus and that only five gardens will pay it on Saturday.