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Gardens close for fuel crunch

Posted by Ramesh Khati on July 24, 2009

Darjeeling , July 23: Tea gardens across the hills are shutting down despite being exempted from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s strike, largely because of lack of coal and fuel supplies to their factories.

Sources said Dooteriya-Kalaj Valley tea garden had stopped plucking today and the management engaged the workers in other activities like weeding as fuel and coal were short on supply.

“I have been told that Happy Valley, Nagri Farm and Chongtong gardens will also be closing from tomorrow,” said, Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association.

The Morcha had kept the gardens out of the purview of the indefinite strike from Monday. Even though the party had given a 10-hour relaxation on that day, planters said they could not take advantage of that.

“Word had spread that Siliguri would be closing on Monday as a counter move to the Morcha’s relaxation. Apprehending law and order problems in the plains, most garden trucks did not go down. Moreover, tankers also refused to come up the hills, citing that the relaxation was too short for them to return,” said Mukherjee.

While the management of the smaller gardens claimed that they could pull through for another “week”, estates of medium and larger size that employ around 800-odd workers on an average said they were finding it increasingly difficult to run the factories. “Tea leaves cannot be kept for long without being processed after plucking,” said Mukherjee.

Even though the amount of fuel and coal needed by the garden entirely depends on the plucking done on any particular day, sources said a m edium-sized garden usually needs around 250-300 litres of diesel and about a truckload of coal a day.

“I had written a letter to Bimal Gurung on Tuesday thanking him for the relaxation and highlighting the problems we are likely to face. We will also write to him tomorrow about the crisis we are facing,” said Mukherjee.

Even though the Morcha has kept the gardens open, movement of vehicles within the garden has been restricted. “We also need to transport made tea to meet our demands,” said a tea official.

The 86 gardens in Darjeeling produce about 9.5 million kg of made tea annually.

Source: The Telegraph


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