The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nalsa with tea status report at PM door

Siliguri, June 10: A report submitted to the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India recently says that “state-based infrastructure has failed to support the income-less (garden) workers” of the Dooars.

The study by the National Legal Services Authority was referring to the “mismanagement in distribution of job cards and old age pensions and implementation of the 100-days-work scheme” in the closed tea estates, where 571 workers have died in the past 15 months.

The report also states that the starvation in the gardens was mainly due to “unemployment, absence of alternative income opportunities and limited access to social justice measures (see graphic)”.

The survey comes at a time when the Bengal government has been claiming that the deaths in closed tea gardens is at par with the state average and had nothing to do with starvation.

Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury, the national adviser to Nalsa, who submitted the report in Delhi last week, said: “We have conducted public hearings in Siliguri and also in the closed tea gardens, where hundreds of workers and residents made their submissions before our counsels.”

“Whatever facts and figures we have found from the hearings and during field investigations have been included in the report,” Mitra Chaudhury said over phone from Sikkim.

The report points out that women in these gardens are often compelled to take up exploitative tasks to avoid starvation. Added to this is the problem of trafficking.

On medical care, Nalsa’s national adviser said common support systems like ambulances for pregnant women and emergency drugs for snake bites, malaria and tuberculosis were absent, especially in the wake of the closure of garden hospitals.

The investigation also revealed poor and minimal supply of medicines and doctors. With the situation worsening in the brew belt every day, workers and even some labour leaders have indicated in their submissions the erosion of faith in trade unions.

Mitra Chaudhury has cited absence of free and competent legal aid and legal literacy. The National Legal Literacy Mission, aimed at community-based education of legal rights, has not been implemented in the gardens.

The report does not stop with the stark reality. It also suggests measures.

“We have recommended criminal proceedings against defaulting garden owners, cancellation of their lease, rescinding ownership to buildings and infrastructure raised on leased garden land and using the same as social infrastructure for residents,” the legal adviser said.

Other suggestions include development of rehabilitation strategies for residents and speedy implementation of packages announced by the Union commerce and industry ministry.

A nine-member all-women delegation from Nalsa will visit the closed gardens on June 25. The national adviser, who refused to reveal the names, said: “They hold eminent positions in the government and the judiciary and are decision makers.”

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