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Intervening in sick tea gardens of the State for the first time, the Government of West Bengal has taken over the Bandapani Tea garden located in the Madarihaat block of Alipurduar district in West Bengal, and put up a notice on the gate that the land belongs to the State government. The tea garden has been closed since July 2013.
When contacted by The Hindu, the District Magistrate Alice Vaz said that the “State government has taken over the garden”. She however refused to elaborate on the issue.
“It was the demand of the workers that the government should take over the garden because there was a dispute over ownership. The garden is lying closed for nearly one and a half months, but the owners did not attend any of the meetings called by the government to reopen the garden,” said Nagendra Chettri, unit secretary of Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU).
The tea garden, with around 1130 workers, had made headlines in July this year when deaths due to disease and malnutrition were reported here. The plight of workers can only be ascertained by the fact that a day after The Hindu reported that three workers require immediate medication based on an input provide by a team of social activists and members of labour unions on July 10, 2014, one of the workers died.
Following the development, the State government started providing relief to the workers. Workers were also provided with subsidized foodgrains and FAWLOI (family allowance for workers in locked-out industry).
The condition of workers in the tea garden has improved since then, said S M Tamanag, head clerk of the tea garden.
Mr Tamang, however said that the workers want that the State government should find another owner for the tea garden instead of handing it over to West Bengal Tea Development Corporation, a State government undertaking which has five tea gardens.
Debjit Dutta, a spokesperson of United Tea Workers Front (UTWF), a conglomeration of several unions operating in north Bengal said that taking over such gardens is a long standing demand of the UTWF.
Mr Dutta pointed out that at least five tea gardens in north Bengal are grappling with long closures because of ownership and other issues.
“We have recorded eight deaths in the garden due to malnutrition and diseases since July 2013.
Merely taking over the tea garden will not end the plight of workers and the State government should take immediate steps for its reopening as workers in the tea garden are still starving,” he added.
From: The Hindu