Lockout jitters for south Assam gardens

Silchar, Feb 28 : The declaration of a lockout at Urrunabund tea estate yesterday, the second lockout in a plantation in the Cachar tea region in a month, has unnerved the planters in south Assam at a time when the output is surging and the average price of the CTC yield per kg is on an upswing.
The estate, owned by the Calcutta-based Jatinga Tea Ltd, is on the highway that links Silchar town with the airport.
A showdown between tea workers and the management at Aylabari tea estate under Karimganj district early February led to a lockout, which was, however, lifted after a week. 
The assistant labour commissioner’s office in this town has convened a meeting between the management of Urrunabund tea estate and the two labour unions early next week to sort out the tangle leading to the lockout in the garden. 
Urrunabund is one of the oldest and biggest tea plantations in tea-growing Cachar with about 500 labourers on the payroll and producing about 4.5 lakh kg of CTC tea. Its gross area is over a thousand hectares of land. 
Trouble began this week when a few labourers had a spat with the management. 
One of the labourers, Pintoo Baidya, even assaulted the general manager of the garden, R.N. Pandey, forcing him and his managerial colleagues to leave the garden and take shelter in Silchar. 
A section of the workers, owing allegiance to the BJP-controlled Barak Valley Cha Mazdoor Sangha, were irked after Jatinga Tea Ltd ordered a survey of the lands to find out how many of the workers and the outsiders were illegal occupants and how much land could be farmed out to these people. 
The labourers had also been venting their ire as the management appeared to be firm on evicting illegal settlers in the 30 acres of land of Urrunabund which Jatinga Tea donated to a religious trust in south India to build a 400-bed modern hospital there.
The Cachar Cha Sramik Union, affiliated to Intuc, has taken an initiative to defuse tension in the garden. Its assistant general secretary, D.N. Baroi, today said the management should refrain from taking any anti-worker stand.