The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tale of failed tests and broken promises

Siliguri, June 6: Two months after Asim Dasgupta’s visit and it is almost time for the progress report.

The Bengal finance minister had sanctioned Rs 16 crore to the Jalpaiguri district administration while visiting the closed gardens of the Dooars on April 3.

Along with funds for the quarter ending in June had come a bunch of promises — doctors for every tea estate, several financial schemes and alternative means of livelihood. Not only that, health staff attached to the gardens before they closed down will be recalled to provide better healthcare to workers,” the minister had said.

But even after 571 deaths, the picture remains the same. “Only two doctors responded to our advertisement,” said Banamali Roy, the sabhadhipati of Jalpaiguri Zilla Parishad.

“Not only that, not a single health worker, who had served in these gardens earlier, turned up,” said Bhusan Chakraborty, the chief medical officer of health, Jalpaiguri.

Most of the workers of these closed estates, however, had not taken Dasgupta’s sops seriously. “We never really expected anything to happen. There was a mobile van earlier, which used to carry patients to hospital. For the past two-three months, that service, too, has been discontinued,” said Gopal Das, a worker of Sikarpur and Bhandapur Tea Estate.

Biplab Sarkar, a staff member of the Bharnobari tea estate, was more positive. He said a health sub-centre has come up in his garden though the supply of medicine is erratic.

Sania Bhumij, the unit secretary of the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union at the Raipur tea estate, said the frequency of visits by the mobile medical team has increased. “Now it is four days a week, earlier it was two. But even now we don’t have an ambulance in our garden to carry patients to Jalpaiguri, located 10 km away.”

Some of Dasgupta’s other promises that are yet to come true include agriculture or multi-cropping on the 2,200 acres of unused land of the estates. “We had sent a proposal to start cultivation of pulses, black gram, corn and paddy on 800 acres,” said Sarthak Burma, the additional director of agriculture in north Bengal. “But it has not yet been sanctioned.”

Distribution of relief in the form of foodgrain and cash, however, is on. “We are always trying our best to disburse funds on a regular basis,” said Md Nasim, the joint labour commissioner posted in Siliguri.

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