ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY and AVIJIT SINHA,TT, June 30: Tea trade union leaders today criticised the state government for not bearing additional subsidy on foodgrains distributed to workers in closed gardens in north Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee and her cabinet colleague Jyotipriya Mullick had said the state cannot provide food grains at 45 paisa a kg to shut gardens – the rate at which foodgrains are distributed in open estates.
On June 27, Mamata, while speaking to reporters in Alipurduar, had said the state was providing food grains to workers and their families of the 22-odd shut tea estates at Rs 2 a kg.
“It is true that we are providing them rice at Rs 2 a kg. You must be aware that in open markets, cost of a kg of rice is Rs 25. If you feel that the state will give relief on everything … then how can the government run? If we could, we would have provided rice to them free of cost but we have to pay dues to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore a year…. In the open gardens, it is part of their wages,” Mamata said in reply to a question regarding the anomaly that while workers of open tea estates were getting rice at 45 paisa a kg, those in shut gardens were paying Rs 2 for a kg.
“You should appreciate that we are providing rice at Rs 2 per kg to eight crore people of the state,” she added.
Earlier, tea planters used to provide food grains to the workers according to the Plantation Labour Act. But as the state planned to introduce the central national food security scheme – it has been named Khadya Sathi in the state – it was decided that tea planters will buy food grains from the state at Rs 2 a kg. They will bear a subsidy of Rs 1.55 and distribute the foodgrains among the workers and their families at 45 paisa per kg.
But in closed tea estates where there is no management to bear the subsidy, the workers and their families need to pay Rs 2 for a kg.
The grain subsidy given in the gardens is provided by the Centre. While in open gardens, the owners are facilitating the additional subsidy, in the closed gardens, it is only the central subsidy that the workers are benefiting from.
The state has no hand in providing it.
State food minister Mullick had told The Telegraph: “It is true that in open tea estates, the owners are bearing the subsidy. We could not find anybody to bear the subsidy in the closed tea estates. That is why we are distributing rice among workers through self-help groups at Rs 2 a kg.”
The comments have drawn criticisms from the Left tea trade unions.
“It is disappointing that the state is spending so much money to host fairs, festivals and other events but it can’t bear the additional subsidy that can help the jobless and impoverished workers and their families (in shut gardens),” Gopal Pradhan, the president of Utuc-backed Dooars Cha Bagan Workers’ Union, said.
“Because of the new system, the management has been benefited. They are saving around Rs 7 against each kg of food grains as they are getting it at Rs 2 now whereas earlier, they used to buy it from the open market for around Rs 9 a kg.”
Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of Intuc-backed National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “We protest such biased decision of the state. We will launch a movement if such disparity persists and there is no initiative from state’s side.”
According to trade union leaders, after the introduction of Khadya Sathi scheme, each family is entitled to get 35 kg of rice a month.
“If the state pays the additional subsidy of 1.55 paisa, it will have to pay over Rs 13 la-kh to provide foodgrains to about 25,000 families in the shut gardens,” a union leader said.