Kolkata: The death of tea garden workers due to non-payment of salaries and other benefits have become a concern for the state government. According to government officials, at least six people have died in the last month due to sheer lack of resources.
Since April this year, the tea garden workers have not received their salaries, rations, not even drinking water and no one has a clue. “We have received our salary last in February this year. Since then no wages were paid or our benefits were given and we do not know why,” said Pari Pradhan, a tea garden worker, who lost her husband last month.
Workers inform that in August this year, they were informed that they could do “cash plucking” and sell them to “bought leaf” factories. For every kilo of tea leaf plucked workers get five rupees. If fit and able, a worker can make about Rs100 (Dh5.60) per day.
Though this is close to their normal daily wage, the earnings are uncertain. Also the main components of their wages rations, firewood, house maintenance, drinking water are what keep them afloat.
The state government has just realised the plight of the workers last Monday and has rushed rations and doctors but denies deaths from hunger. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in north Bengal, issued an ultimatum to the garden workers at a public meeting, “If they won’t run the tea gardens, government will take over,” she said.
“Those who are running the tea gardens properly, we will help them. But those tea garden owners, who are closing their tea gardens all of a sudden and without even giving back the provident fund money to the employees, are not doing the right thing,” the chief minister said while ordering resumption of drinking water and electricity supply to the closed tea gardens.
There has been no response from the tea garden owners association and more so from the defaulting company Duncan who are even avoiding the police.
“This is sheer negligence on the part of the owners of the tea garden who left around 3,000 people including temporary workers in a lurch. They have been doing this for generations and have no skills other than picking tea leaves. The owner should have been humanitarian,” said another tea garden owner unwilling to be named.
However, most tea gardens are in a dire state as the industry is crippling due to lower exports and steep rise in production cost.