| Workers’ quarters at Bagrakote Tea Estate, where individual meters are yet to be set up. (Biplab Basak)
Siliguri, Sept. 26: Tea planters from the Terai and Dooars have sought more time from the Bengal government and financial assistance from the tea board for setting up individual electricity connections at workers’ quarters.
“We have suffered losses due to detrimental weather and we will also be paying Puja bonus at higher rates this year. Given the situation, it is difficult for us to deposit money for individual electricity connections by November, the deadline set by the power minister at a meeting last month,” said Mohini Das, the secretary of the Terai Indian Planters’ Association. “We want the state to reconsider and defer the deadline.”
On August 22, Bengal power minister Mrinal Banerjee had insisted on speeding up the process of setting up individual connections at the workers’ quarters. Under the new plan, workers will get their own meters and bills for electric consumption instead of the tea company buying power in the bulk and distributing it to the labour lines.
However, for each new connection, Rs 621 must be deposited, of which workers will pay Rs 206 and tea companies the rest.
“In addition, most gardens will have to spend Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 per quarters to renovate them to meet the norms of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited,” said N.K. Basu, principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “For an estate with 1,000 quarters, the total expenditure (including connection fee) will be around Rs 25-Rs30 lakh, which most our members cannot afford right now.”
The planters also want financial help from the tea board to to implement the new power scheme.
“The tea board has a labour welfare fund of Rs 50 crore. Since extension of electricity to the workers’ quarters is part of labour welfare, we expect the board to bear the financial burden or at least a portion of it,” a planter said.
So far, only around 50 of the 220 odd tea estates in the plains of north Bengal have applied for the new connections and paid the deposit. Individual meters have been set up in the labour lines of three gardens, including the Tata Tea-owned Dam Dim, under a pilot project.