This would affect the despatch of the premium first-flush crop, highly valued in the market

The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha's (GJM) agitation in the Darjeeling hills took a new turn with its trade union wing in the tea sector calling for an embargo, from Friday, on the despatch of manufactured orthodox tea from tea gardens in the region.

Tea industry has expressed concern over thisas it would affect the despatch of the premium first-flush crop, highly valued in the market.

By calling for the embargo, the GJM leadership has added to its principal “political” demand for the inclusion of the Terai and the Dooars regions in the north Bengal jurisdiction — for any future “interim” administrative arrangement for the hills — those related to the wage structure of tea workers in the region.

The GJM-affiliated Darjeeling, Terai, Dooars Plantation Labour Union is, among other things, demanding the introduction of variable dearness allowance for tea workers and an upward revision in their daily wages from the present Rs. 67 to between Rs. 120 and Rs.154, Trilok Chand Roka, its legal adviser told The Hindu over telephone.

“We have submitted a 14-point charter of demands to the managements”, Mr. Roka said. The 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills employ nearly 53,000 people on a permanent basis and another 15,000 as temporary workers.

An ultimatum to meet the demands by March 6 was served by the GJM leadership to the producers, on February 27. The embargo is to further pressure the producers, sources said. The first flush tea crop comprises nearly 18 per cent of the total annual tea production of 9 million tons in the hills, Mr. Roka added.

The “sudden” call for the embargo has come as a “surprise” to tea producers. Even though they said that it is still early days for the first- flush crop, they hoped for an early solution, failing which “it will be very detrimental to the tea gardens as well as the entire Darjeeling district.”

No embargo has been announced by the GJM-affiliated union on the despatch of CTC tea from the tea gardens.

Minister of State for Labour Anadi Sahu said that the three-year agreement on wages of tea workers expires on March 31. The government has already stated that the State's minimum wage of Rs.168 a day should be incorporated in the next agreement, besides the introduction of variable dearness allowance for tea workers.