TT, July 4: The state food department has decided to hand over the task of supplying ration in 68 tea gardens of north Bengal to self-help groups in an attempt to ensure continuous flow of food grains for residents in case the management announces suspension of work or abandons the estates.
Sources said agreements formalising the new system were being signed and the supply of rations through self-help groups would start in one month.
“We have seen that distribution of ration among tea workers and their families, which is the management’s responsibility, stops once the owner abandons a garden or announces suspension of work,” state food minister Jyotipriya Mallick said. “Now that the National Food Security Act has been extended to tea estates, we have checked the credentials of tea companies in the Darjeeling hills, the Dooars and the Terai.”
According to Mallick, based on the information collected, 68 gardens, including some closed and sick ones, were found to be vulnerable.
“We have decided that in gardens that are prone to closure or are sick or where the management has some problems, ration would be distributed by local women’s self-help groups,” Mallick said.
Food department sources said most of the 68 gardens were in the Dooars – either in Jalpaiguri or Alipurduar district – and they had been shortlisted on the basis of financial health, labour problems and other parameters.
The food department has asked the managements and the self-help groups concerned to sign an agreement.
“Signing of agreements has begun in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts. State labour department officials will also sign the agreement as intermediaries,” an official said.
Under the National Food Security Act, each garden family gets 35kg of food grains a month. While workers of open gardens buy food grains at 45p per kg and the management bears the subsidy of Rs 1.55, labourers of shut estates, where the management does not bear the additional subsidy, buy food grains at Rs 2 per kg.
According to the new agreement, the estate owners will deposit Rs 1.55 with the food department for a kg of grains.
“The money would be transferred to the self-help groups which will then collect the remaining 45p per kg from each worker and deposit Rs 2 (for a kg) with the state,” said a source. “In shut estates, however, the self-help groups will supply food grains at Rs 2 a kg.”
Rinchen Sherpa, the district food controller of Jalpaiguri, said: “In Jalpaiguri district, there are 87 tea estates and the SHGs will distribute ration in 53 of them.”
A food department source said, in most Darjeeling and Terai tea gardens, the management would distribute food grains among the workers.