By Kokila Dhakal Kathmandu, Aug. 5: Six municipalities in eastern Nepal have demanded that the historical public tea gardens, now managed by the private companies, be returned. Chiefs of the municipalities and rural municipalities of Jhapa and Ilam districts took that decision at a meeting held on Monday in Suryodaya Municipality in Ilam. The government had given the management of seven tea gardens -- four in Ilam and three in Jhapa -- to Triveni Shanghai Group for 50 years, and has sold 65 per cent of their shares to the business group. The privatised gardens include Ilam, Kanyam, Soktim and Chilimkot of Ilam and Barne, Tokla and Barhadarshi of Jhapa.
The meeting demanded that the management of the gardens be taken back from the private company and be given to the respective local governments. It also decided to write to the federal government for the same. Earlier, Suryodaya, Ilam and Mai municipalities of Ilam had passed the agenda from their municipal executive body and time and again made calls for the return of the gardens to them. “We have been demanding to develop a Tea Research Centre and a museum by taking back the garden that carries 156-year-long history of tea in Nepal,” said Mayor of Ilam Mahesh Basnet. “The private company has removed the important and expensive machines and tools from the factory which was built in 1878. This is an effort to erase history. We are able to preserve this history ourselves,” he added. Mayor of Suryodaya Municipality Ran Bahadur Rai said that the condition of Kanyam Tea Garden was even more pathetic. “Labourers are forced to do more hard work and they are afraid of speaking against the garden arrangement,” he said.
Tea plants at Kanyam are not getting proper care. We are able to protect this natural treasure and have been requesting the federal government to give us the management responsibility, said Rai. According to him, the Triveni Sanghai Group has not paid the taxes that it owed to the local governments in Jhapa and Ilam. In addition, the group has Rs. 25 milion due to pay for as land and business taxes to the local bodies.
Lately, workers in those gardens have been complaining that they were forced to leave the work due to low pay, absence of social security like insurance and health safety, no appointment letter and reluctance in the part of the management to provide health treatment to the workers. Ramesh Khadka of Kanyam said that the workers might have some relief if the gardens were managed by the local bodies. Minister for Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives Ram Rana said that given the situation of the government tea gardens and workers, the government should review the privatisaion of them.