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McLeod Russel workers face uncertain future

World’s largest tea growing company is selling 8 premier tea gardens in Tinsukia district to Mumbai-based MK Shah Exports Limited (MKSEL) for nearly Rs 331 crore to reduce its debt burden and to expand its business outside India

OUR CORRESPONDENT
TINSUKIA, June 14: Apprehensions are looming large over the fate of several thousand workforces who resorted to agitation recently after McLeod Russel decided to sell eight premier tea gardens in Tinsukia district to Mumbai-based MK Shah Exports Limited (MKSEL) for nearly Rs 331 crore to reduce its debt burden and to expand its business outside India.
The gardens are Beesakopie, Raidang Daimukhia, Samdang Bagjan, Bordubi, Koomsong and Phillobari. The combined grant area of eight gardens is 9,350 hectares while the area under tea cultivation is 5,700 hectares with combined workforce of nearly 10,000 producing 10.5 million kg of tea annually.

The McLeod Russel, world’s largest tea growing company and a part of Williamson Magor, which produces 118 million kg from its 65 gardens across India, Vietnam, Uganda and Rwanda, signed a MoU with MKSEL to sell off eight of their 48 tea estates in Assam. According to information, though the MoU was signed a week back, the formal transfer will take place in another one month though MKSEL has not approached the Tinsukia district administration yet for registration and sale deed.

While the aggrieved workers vowed not to let MKSEL take over the gardens till their outstanding dues are settled, including PF, with assurances of no curtailment of benefits by the new company, a source in Assam Tea Employees’ Provident Fund Organization said McLeod Russel is not a defaulter in depositing PF against any of its garden employees.

Though Raju Sahu, secretary of ACMS Panitola branch and former MLA, cited withdrawal of ration subsidy by the government behind the present tea garden crisis, he alleged that many companies keep the State Government in dark while selling tea garden property unlawfully in Tinsukia district. Revenue worth crores of rupees had been lost due to benami transactions. He even alleged that some transfers take place in London or elsewhere where local authorities have no reach. There are also allegations against tea companies selling their leased land unlawfully for commercial purposes.