A huge section of the workforce has not reported for work in the crisis-ridden Darjeeling tea gardens despite withdrawal of the prolonged shutdown in the hills, a top official said. "More than 60 per cent of one lakh-odd workers of the Darjeeling tea industry have not reported for work even as the shutdown has been lifted in the hills," chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) B Mohan told PTI. Owing to the shutdown, which started since mid-June, the tea bushes were covered with thick growth and needed to be pruned thoroughly, he said. Mohan said that the task could not be carried out due to massive absenteeism and plucking activity was hampered. The association is apprehensive that the workers might have fled to Nepal or to the plains in West Bengal for some gainful employment and their return to the hills is uncertain. "This is a major problem and the garden owners are in a fix on how to manage (the situation)," he said. There are about 87-odd gardens in Darjeeling, the premier ones being Makaibari, Goodricke, Jungpana and Andrew Yule. "This is a huge crisis and payments to the rest of the workers who have come for duty will be problem in the coming two months since there was no production during the shutdown period," he said. The DTA has already sought financial support from the commerce ministry through Tea Board. "We had asked for around Rs 230-240 crore from the ministry.
The government is regularly interacting with us. We hope something will come through," he said. Meanwhile, several gardens have started making bonus payments to the workers at the rate of 19.75 per cent of their annual earnings.
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