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Rice blow in tea belt

Siliguri/Jaigaon, Oct. 3: A reported lack of goods train rakes has halted supply of rice to 157 tea gardens in the Dooars just before Pujas, leaving planters and union leaders worried.

“Distributors who supply rice to tea gardens in the Dooars have not received a single bag of grain in September from the state food and supplies department. They had deposited the required money on the first of week of last month,” said Amitangshu Chakraborty, convenor of the West Bengal Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations.

“There is a shortage in supply because goods trains carrying rice to Jalpaiguri and Siliguri from different parts of the state and other states have not come. We have taken up the issue with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) which supplies the grains and we expect the rice to arrive in the next few days,” said Biswajit Biswas, the district controller of the food and supplies in Jalpaiguri.

FCI officials said the break in supply was because of lack of goods coaches, which ferry the rice to north Bengal from rice-producing areas. “It is because of the shortage of railway rakes that we could not bring rice from other locations within the state and beyond,” said A.R. Gautam, the area manager of FCI in Jalpaiguri.

“As a result, distribution of rations has stopped in the gardens. Now that Durga Puja is ahead, we are apprehensive of a law and order problem in the tea estates,” Chakraborty, the convenor of the West Bengal committee of Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations, said.

According to tea industry sources, each tea worker gets 6kg of rice and 1kg of wheat every month at a subsidised rate of 40 paise per kg.

Every month, around 19,000 quintals of rice and around 3,300 quintals of wheat are required in the brew belts.

The non-disbursement of rations has also left trade union leaders irritated and concerned. “The workers bank largely on the rations and would face inconvenience if the food grains are not provided to them. The government must intervene and rectify this irregularity,” Chitta Dey, convener of the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, said.

“Considering the exorbitant price hike and the existing wages of tea workers, it is not possible for them to buy rice from the market and run their homes,” said Samir Roy, a trade union leader.