The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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80 die in seven months, most of starvation

Kranti (Jalpaiguri), Nov. 26: The CPM-led gram panchayat here today admitted that at least 80 out-of-work employees at the Jogesh Chandra Tea Estate, closed since April 22 this year, had died for want of food.

The estate employed around 7,000 labourers.

The statement comes a week after agriculture minister Kamal Guha slammed the Left Front for being “indifferent” to the plight of the garden workers.

“At least 80 people have died in the past seven months. Most of them were claimed by malnutrition. Others died of disease and lack of treatment,” said Bhuban Barai, a Citu leader and member of the Kranti gram panchayat.

“The administration and the Citu central committee are aware of the situation. We alerted them several times. But the trade union leaders, who were influential and had a firm grip over the garden during the better days, have disappeared without a trace when we need them most. We feel betrayed,” alleged Barai, sitting outside the tea garden hospital where hundreds of sick people waited for their turn to meet the doctor.

Several voluntary organisations of north Bengal, including the Lataguri Welfare Organisation, the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, St John’s Ambulance, the Jalpaiguri Welfare Organisation and the Social Soldiers of Jalpaiguri, have set up camps to provide free medicines and garments to the garden workers.

“People here have gone without food for days. They have lost faith in the administration. The management refuses to meet the labour commission. If this situation continues, there will be a repeat of the Dalgaon tragedy and we will not take the blame for it,” said Igles Girgetta, the chairman of the receiving committee formed by the local administration and the garden workers.

Barai said the concern shown by the chief minister and the labour minister when they visited the area left a lot to be desired. “It was not enough.”

Permanent workers — 1,310 of them — however, are bracing themselves for the worse. Next week signals the off-season for tealeaf and workers will not even get the Rs 20 they earned each day after plucking 12 to 13 kg of green leaves.

“We have no idea how we will survive through the off-season. Supply of drinking water and weekly ration was stopped over seven months ago. We were buying food with the money we received. Now, even that will stop,” said Swapan Saha, the head clerk.

B.L. Mitra, the attending doctor, said 60 per cent of the patients treated in the past two days suffered from night blindness and 50 per cent had malaria.

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