Tea plantation
Tea plantation workers in India are said to have murdered their boss in a dispute over pay Reuters

The owner of a tea plantation in Bengal, northern India has been stabbed, hacked and beaten to death by his employees, apparently in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

Rajesh Jhunjhunwala, also known as Rajesh Agarwal, is said to have met with workers from the Sonali Tea Estate near Bagrakote following a long-running dispute over pay and conditions that had led to some labourers staging a dharna, or non-violent sit-in.

"During the talks, an altercation broke out between the owner and the workers, as the latter demanded that Jhunjhunwala clear all their wage arrears," Kunal Agarwal, Superintendent of Police for Jalpaiguri, told Indian Express. "Jhunjhunwala expressed his inability to do so and also refused to pay them the day's wages. The workers became violent and attacked Jhunjhunwala."

The men began beating Jhunjhunwala, 45, then apparently hacked him to death. Six people are being questioned by police, but union activity in the murder is not suspected.

Tea pickers in India are notoriously badly-paid  Wikipedia

Tea plantation sources said Jhunjhunwala had not been a member of the local Planters' Association for some two years and apparently large parts of the land were now being used for other activities rather than tea production.

It is not known when Jhunjhunwala took over ownership of the troubled estate, but some sources said workers had not been paid for six months.

There have been several fatal attacks on tea plantation bosses in the region in recent years. In June the chief executive of Northbrook Jute Mill, HK Maheswari was killed and Dalmore's assistant manager Ajit Panwar was killed in March.

In 2012 Mridul and Rita Bhattacharyya were burned alive by a mob of workers at the couple's bungalow in Kunapathar, Assam state following a two-week dispute over pay.

India is the world's second-largest producer of tea after China, but workers are notoriously badly-paid and often live in squalid conditions. On average workers receive around 50 rupees ($1) a day, plus some help with rent and fuel.

In recent months many plantations have closed their doors, leaving workers with no income. Around 100 workers are said to have starved to death in the last year.