State Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak on Thursday asked planters to pay Hill tea workers their pending puja bonus by 10 March. While most trade union leaders claimed that Thursday’s meeting in Siliguri was inconclusive and that the state unilaterally imposed its decisions, planters said they expressed their inability to make payments as of now.

The state labour department has decided to hold another meeting on Minimum Wages for tea workers in Kolkata on 12 March, and also proposed the planters pay the value of traditional ration.

A tripartite meeting was held at Mainak, the state-run Tourist Lodge in Siliguri on Thursday, to review the distribution of food grains under the National Food Security Act to workers and non-workers of tea plantations of Darjeeling district.

Thursday’s meeting was different from other nine meetings held on the issue of tea workers’ wages and other burning issues in the tea industry, as other ministers like tourism minister Gautam Deb, PWD minister Aroop Biswas, chairman of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) board Binoy Tamang and his deputy Anit Thapa, other Trinamul leaders who hold several official posts, including Rajya Sabha member Shanta Chhetri, and Sabhadhipati of the Alipurduar Zilla Parishad, Mohan Sharma, also attended the talks.

Talking to reporters, labour minister Moloy Ghatak said: “We have taken stock of the situation on the issue of interim payment of Rs 17.50 for daily-rated workers in tea plantations. We have got information that payment has been made in 90 to 95 per cent gardens in the Terai and the Dooars.”

“We have asked planters to make payment of interim wages as soon as possible to workers in the Hills too. We have also asked the planters to complete the payment of the second installment of bonus by 10 March,” he added.

It may be noted that following instructions from chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the state labour department held a tripartite meeting and asked planters in the Hills to pay bonus at the rate of 19.75 percent. It was also decided that planters would pay 50 percent before the Durga Puja (last year) and the remaining half later.

However, all planters could not make the payment and the deadline was extended after Diwali. But all planters could not make the payment even after that, as the tea industry suffered during the 104-day shutdown in the Hills last year. Asked to comment on the assessment of the value of ration, Minister Ghatak said: “It is a part of Minimum Wages for tea workers.

Members of the Minimum Wages Advisory Committee will hold a meeting in Kolkata on 12 March on this. I proposed them to discuss the valuation of ration ascertained by the food department.” “Since we could not implement Minimum Wages, the decision was taken to pay an interim relief of Rs 17.50 to workers.

I also proposed planters to make the payment of the ration value as interim relief,” he added. “I also proposed the planters to implement the same formula as applied in the interim payment for staff and sub staff,” he said.

However, a majority of the trade union leaders expressed unhappiness over today’s meeting, though the minister claimed that workers are getting Rs 150 a day (Rs 137.50 +Rs 17.50). “Workers in 18 gardens in the Terai did not receive the interim relief. Both workers and planters are under pressure of the administration.

Workers have been threatened to accept the interim relief, and told that further payment will be stopped if they do not accept it,” spokesperson of the Joint Forum, Zia-ul Alam, said, adding, “Planters are also under pressure. If they do not make payment, their garden licenses will be scrapped.” “The state government has unilaterally imposed some decisions on us.

The settlement of wages is being delayed unnecessarily. It may create an unstable position in the industry,” he said. As the minister criticized the Central government for taking over seven tea plantations in the Dooars, another trade union leader associated the BJP, John Barla, said: “The state has done nothing for the workers. We will not accept the interim payment. We will go for a movement.”