Workers lynch tea garden owner in India, police say

NEW DELHI (ADP) - Angry workers have hacked to death the owner of a tea plantation in eastern India over a payment dispute, police said on Sunday, underscoring festering labour unrest in the region.

Rajesh Jhunjhunwala, 45, was dragged out in the middle of discussions and attacked by the irate mob at the Sonali tea estate in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal state, a local police officer told AFP over phone.

"Our preliminary investigations have revealed that there was some issue of payments. It appears he was attacked by some sharp weapons," P.T. Bhutia said.

A raid was on to nab the culprits, who fled after the incident at the estate spread over some 400 acres of land in the Dooars region, he added.

Tea workers are notoriously badly paid and often housed in poor accommodation in remote areas. They have few protections from police and cannot take advantage of laws designed to guarantee them health care and fair working conditions, rights groups say.

Last year, workers at a tea garden in neighbouring Assam state bludgeoned their boss and his wife to death before setting the bungalow where they lived on fire over payment and other disputes.

In the latest incident, police said Jhunjhunwala had arrived at the garden only about a week back to sort out differences with his workers.

"He (Jhunjhunwala) did not live here. He came here to pacify his workers as it appears they had not been paid their salaries for the last 2-3 months," Bhutia said.

Tea gardens in West Bengal are spread over the Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars regions, which produced 312 million kilogrammes of tea last year, according to the Tea Board of India.