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World hears tea belt woes

Dibrugarh, Aug. 3: An Adivasi student organisation has just revealed before the international community what is supposedly one of Assam’s worst-kept secrets ' that around 1,000 people die in the tea belt every year due to allegedly inadequate healthcare.

Leaders of the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam today said they raised the issue during the 23rd session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, held at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in the latter half of July.

“In the 900-odd tea gardens of Assam, around 1,000 people die every year due to lack of proper medical facilities when diseases like dysentery, gastroenteritis, malaria, high fever, diarrhoea take the form of epidemics. Apart from the tea industry, the state government is to blame for this since it has failed to put pressure on the garden managements to make necessary arrangements for healthcare,” the organisation’s vice-president, Raphael Kujur, told the gathering.

Delegates from 103 nations participated in the conclave.

For the ruling Congress, which feeds on support from the tea tribes during every election, the issue of inadequate healthcare in the tea belt has been a thorn in its side.

Assembly elections are due early next year and the tea tribes have already indicated that their support must not be taken for granted.

Kujur attended the UN meeting along with Bosco Chermako, chief organising secretary of the Adivasi student organisation.

“Apart from poor health and hygiene in the tea gardens, we also highlighted the plight of 1.5 lakh Adivasis living in 38 relief camps in Kokrajhar district for over a decade and the passive role of the state government in arranging for rehabilitation of these people,” Kujur said.

Apart from the Adivasi student organisation, the All Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) has been campaigning against the Congress government for allegedly not doing anything for the welfare of the tea tribes. It is considering the option of floating a political party instead of continuing to support the Congress.

The ATTSA’s grouse is that successive governments have used the tea tribes’ support to win elections, but ignored their problems.

The organisation launched an agitation against the Tarun Gogoi government on September 21 last year.

Sources in the Congress admitted that with the issue of inadequate healthcare being raised in an international forum, the party would now feel the pinch.

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