A section of tea garden workers in West Bengal on Saturday sought the government’s support to re-open the gardens on their own as owners have abandoned the estates.
Altogether 28 workers from three closed gardens in the Birpara-Madarihat block of Jalpaiguri district met the Food Commissioner, who is also the State’s nodal officer for the Supreme Court on Right to Food, the Labour Secretary and the Minister for Commerce and Industry on Friday to place their demands.
The workers demanded that the State government declare them as Below Poverty Line (BPL) so that they could benefit from various governmental schemes.
“Although in 2004, the State government, in a Supreme Court affidavit agreed to declare all workers of closed tea gardens as BPL, no such direction has been given to the administration,” said Anuradha Talwar, convenor of the West Bengal State Organising Committee of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI).
“Government officials have assured us that they will look into the matter and develop a mechanism to provide some relief to the workers,” Ms. Talwar said.
The workers demanded implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme work in the region and distribution of cheap AAY (Antodaya Anna Yojana) rations at 10 kg per head every month. They also wanted mobile medical units to be extended to the region. Around 600 tea garden workers earn their livelihood as daily labourers on the Reti and Dimdima riverbanks. “We toil hard but get only Rs. 40 a day which is not enough for anyone to feed their family and some of us fetch firewood from the adjoining Dalgaon and Reti forests to earn money,” said Sina Oraon, a worker.