Altogether 40 per cent of the tea garden owners in West Bengal are defaulters in respect of provident fund and gratuity payments to workers, State Labour Minister Anadi Sahu said on Thursday.

Talking to reporters at the State Secretariat, he said that the labourers were also being denied benefits like provision of dwelling units, drinking water and medical facilities. There are 278 tea estates in West Bengal with 2.5 lakh workers on their rolls, who produce 25 per cent of India's tea crop averaging at 900 million kg annually.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of a tripartite meeting held on Thursday, he said that the owners had been told to construct 23,970 houses for their workers by June 2011, so that every worker had a shelter over his head.

‘Honour agreements'

“The government has told the tea garden owners to honour the agreements that they have made with the workers,” Mr. Sahu said. They have also been asked to pay up their arrears. He also said that a conference would be organised by the State Government by the first week of February to discuss these matters in detail. The tea garden owners would also be called to that conference.