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Govt push for tea garden panels
- Demand for variable dearness allowance

Siliguri, Aug. 28: Signs of fresh troubles in the tea gardens of north Bengal have forced the state labour department to announce the re-constitution of committees which look after the welfare of around 3.5 lakh workers in terms of housing, health and power supply.

The committees, comprising representatives of trade unions, planters and government officials, have been defunct in all tea gardens since the new government was formed last year.

The decision to form the new panels was announced at a meeting of trade unions convened by the labour department here today.

The meeting was called in the wake of frequent rallies and “gate meetings” in tea gardens by the labourers to seek improvement in their living conditions and payment of variable dearness allowance because of price rise.

“The government will soon form new committees to check if the workers’ quarters are in proper condition and garden hospitals are working well. We will have to include the leaders of new trade unions (Progressive Tea Workers’ Union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Parishad and the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Planters Union of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha), which were formed recently, in the panels,” Md Rizwan, the joint labour commissioner of Siliguri, said after the meeting.

The trade unions complained at the meeting that there was no mechanism in any tea garden to monitor the welfare of the labourers as the committees were defunct.

“The labour quarters are in a pathetic state and garden hospitals and clinics are not delivering proper services. The power supply has also become erratic after the committees turned defunct,” said a trade union leader.

The trade union leaders also demanded that a meeting be called with the planters soon to discuss variable dearness allowance for the workers. “The workers are finding it tough to run their families because of exorbitant prices of essential commodities. Till about 10-15 years back, it was a practice to pay the VDA, but the planters gradually stopped it,” said Aloke Chakraborty, north Bengal regional committee president of the Intuc.

Rizwan said a meeting might be convened in the middle of September to discuss the variable dearness allowance.

Tea industry sources said the launch of movements at garden levels in the form of gate meetings and rallies for the VDA and the improvement in living conditions had made the government to convene today’s meeting. “Only two-and-a-half months are left for the current season to end. It would be undesirable for both the planters and the government to invite the wrath of the workers at this time,” said an industry source.