Siliguri, June 6: Three months after Asim Dasgupta went around some of the ailing Dooars tea gardens and rolled out promises aplenty, it is time for a progress report.
The finance minister had sanctioned Rs 16 crore to the district administration on April 3. With the funds for the quarter ending June came the promise of doctors for every tea estate, a slew of financial schemes and alternative means of livelihood.
“Health staff attached to the gardens before they closed down will also be recalled to ensure better healthcare,” the minister said.
But even after 571 deaths, the picture remains the same.
“Only two doctors responded to our ad and agreed to work on contract,” said Banamali Roy, the sabhadhipati of Jalpaiguri zilla parishad. “We have appointed them to Kalchini and Bharnobari gardens.”
Even a second ad failed to attract doctors to the hunger death zone. “Not only that, no health worker who had served in the gardens earlier, turned up,” said Bhusan Chakraborty, the chief medical officer of health, Jalpaiguri.
Many workers of the closed estates had not taken Dasgupta seriously. “We never expected it to happen. There was a mobile van earlier that used to carry patients. For the past two-three months, that service, too, has been discontinued,” said Gopal Das of Sikarpur and Bhandapur Tea Estate.
But there were many oth- ers, like Biplab Sarkar of Bharnobari, who pinned their hopes on the minister’s promi- ses. Sarkar said a health sub- centre has come up in his garden. “But there are usually no medicines there.”
Sania Bhumij, a leader of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union at Raipur Tea Estate, said the mobile medical team is more frequent now. “But we still don’t have an ambulance in our garden to carry patients to Jalpaiguri, 10 km away.”
Some of Dasgupta’s other promises include agriculture or multi-cropping on 2,200 acres of unused land in the estates. “We had sent a proposal to start cultivation of pulses, black gram, corn and paddy on 800 acres,” said Sarthak Burma, the north Bengal additional director of agriculture. “It hasn’t been sanctioned.”
Distribution of foodgrain and monetary relief has started, though. Labour officials monitoring the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked- out Industries Scheme said all 13 gardens have been included in the list.
The district administration has completed a housewise survey that was part of the study to find the number of deaths in the gardens.