Bansals Deny Funds Misuse In Hills Tea Co | Kolkata News – Times of India


KOLKATA: Ongoing trouble at Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates (DOTEPL) and subsequent workers’ strike at its 10 estates demanding payment of pending wages resulted from erratic funds management of the company’s previous owners, who had allegedly put a huge debt burden on the shoulders of current controlling stake holders — a group of European investors — who have little funds left to invest further, sources said.
Talking to TOI on this issue, Sanjay Prakash Bansal, one of the previous owners of these gardens, said: “All these allegations are false and malicious. Some of the current owners have taken the company’s board berth in 2016. They should have known the financial situation and ground reality by 2020, the year of sale. If we, as previous owners, have done something illegal, why don’t the new owners go to court?”
The finances of this group seem to be in a shambles as the salary and wage of the DOTEPL staff at the headquarters and estates are pending for as many as three months, said a person close to the development. According to sources, the lenders of DOTEPL have rejected the requests of giving the company more time to pay back its dues. When contacted, DOTEPL CEO Indranil Goho didn’t wish to comment.
Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), told TOI: “The Hills tea industry is passing through a critical phase due to rising cost of production and lack of demand. Situation in DOTEPL is complex and all avenues are explored to avert a situation whereby the group’s operations come to a halt.”
The current owners of DOTEPL, the second biggest plantation group in Darjeeling having around 7,000 workers, reportedly bought majority stake of 10 high-profile gardens, including the iconic Ambootia and Happy Valley estates, from the erstwhile owners — Sanjay Prakash and Reema Bansal — for over hundreds of crores of rupees. The majority of the present owners were regular buyers of tea from these gardens, sources said.
“But when the new owners have reportedly tried to source funds to keep the group afloat, the Bansals, on July 12, 2022, filed a case at a Darjeeling court and got an interim injunction against the new DOTEPL owners on the possible sale of any of the group gardens,” said a source close to the development.
An owner of a Darjeeling garden, who doesn’t want to be named, alleged that the previous owners had inflated valuations of their gardens to banks and unsuspecting foreign investors.
Meanwhile, trade unions affiliated to different political parties are squabbling on the mode of agitation to put pressure on the owners. The Hill Terai Dooars Plantation Workers Union (HTDPWU) has called a bandh in the ten gardens since last week.
HTDPWU working president J B Tamang said: “In the August 12 meeting, the owners clearly voiced their inability to pay the wages/salary of their staff. If the present owners cannot run the gardens then the owners should be changed.” Earlier, on August 12, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) CEO Anit Thapa had proposed the formation of a workers’ cooperative to run the gardens if the pending wages were not given soon.
The opposition unions criticised the strike call ahead of the Puja season as it may hit bonus distribution.





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