The gate of a cinchona factory at Mungpoo: Revival efforts on
Darjeeling, Dec. 4: The government has started regularising the “seasonal” workers at the directorate of cinchona and other medicinal plants, lifting an unofficial embargo on recruitment at the four plantations since 2001 and hitting a sour note with the casual staff of the DGHC who have been demanding permanent status.
“Seasonal workers who work for 15 days a month are being regularised since December 1. Two hundred workers (from the 600) will be absorbed,” said Gyan Chandra Subba, director, cinchona directorate.
In the cinchona plantations, spread over 26,000 hectares in Mungpoo and Latpanchar of Kurseong subdivision and Munsong and Rongo of Kalimpong subdivision, the job norms are like those in tea gardens where the next of kin of retired labourers are absorbed as employees.
“Since 2001 there have been no such replacements,” said a source. The 600 seasonal workers, too, were not given any permanent status.
“Seasonal workers are like casual workers. They are given work for 15 days a month. Now these seasonal workers will get to work for 26/27 days a month as regular workers,” said Gyan Chandra Subba. Once made permanent, the workers will be paid like any other Group D employee of a state government office.
Not much parallel can be drawn between the regularisation demand of the DGHC contract workers and those of the cinchona plantation. In case of the council—that is expected to be dissolved soon as the government agreed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s demand — there are no sanctioned posts to absorb all the 6,000 workers.
But in the cinchona plantations, the regularisation had been temporarily stopped for sometime.
To the DGHC workers, the cinchona regularisation has come as a big blow. “Contract workers have always been regularised by various state departments over the years. However, the government has always treated the council separately and never initiated the process here. The DGHC workers have not been treated on a par with other casual workers of the state and we do feel bad about it,” said Machendra Subba, the president of the Janmukti Astahi Karmachari Sangatan, a Morcha affiliate which is spearheading the demand for regularisation of council workers.
Just before Dussehra, the plantation workers had along with the Morcha supporters staged a hunger strike at Mungpoo.
The 200 “seasonal” workers, who usually get Rs 109.40 per day, have been selected on the basis of how long ago the previous generation had retired and the number of labourers working in the plantation from a particular family.
“We have increased the plantation area by over 50 acres,” Gyan Chandra Subba told The Telegraph.
Even though cinchona – quinine is manufactured from its bark — is the main crop of the plantation, other medicinal plants like dioscorea, ipecac and cash crops like rubber, ginger and oranges are also grown in the plantations, although on a smaller scale.
Presently there are around 5,000 labourers apart from 800 staff members in the plantations.
Although the plantations are still running at a loss efforts are being made by the state government to revive them. As part of the effort, the directorate was transferred from the commerce and industries department to the state horticulture department.