SNS | Kolkata | 25 July, 2016: Human rights activists have appealed to the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to make an immediate visit to Lankapra, Bagrakota and Madarihat tea gardens to take urgent and sustained measures to check the sufferings of the workers.
Mr Kirity Roy, secretary of the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) and national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity (PACTI), said that they have appealed to the chief minister and district magistrate of Alipurduar to look into this matter three months ago but the situation has not yet improved. “We have visited all the tea gardens and met with the family members of the workers. Several labourers of these tea gardens died of starvation and malnutrition,” he said.
The tea gardens located in the Dooars region near the Indo-Bhutan border are gradually turning into graveyards, as dozens of workers have fallen victim to starvation-like situation in recent months, he said. In the letter, MASUM wrote to the chairman of the NHRC that around 70 tea garden workers since April 2015 died due to starvation.
MASUM has also conducted a door-to-door survey, which revealed that the workers of Lankapara tea garden have been deprived of their daily wages, provident fund payments,bonuses,pension (for retired workers), rations, housing, electricity, water, medical care besides education facilities for children.
Lankapara tea garden sprawls over an area of 1275.7 hectares. The garden was established in 1890 by the British and is now run by Duncan Industries Limited. The total number of workers before the closure of the factory was 2132. Number of daily registered workers was 1766, of which 836 were casual workers. There were four medical personnel at Block Primary Health Centre.
Lankapara tea garden is not affiliated to any management association. The tea-garden owner closed the estate in March 2015 and since then workers have been suffering.
“Local people said that the authorities of the affected tea gardens did not do anything for modernisation of the tea factories. Several tea gardens, especially Lankapara, became unsuitable for plantation as the company failed to prevent dolomite seepage from river water,” Mr Roy said.
When contacted, a senior official of the state labour department said that the state government has started distributing rice to these tea gardens and medical camps were conducted to check the health of the labourers.
Mr Roy regretted that the government has done little to resolve the current crisis in these tea gardens.