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Tea workers to get ex-gratia for jumbo raids

- Barman asks finance department to double compensation for deaths in animal attacks
An elephant herd in a Dooars tea garden. File picture

Alipurduar, Nov. 27: Forest minister Hiten Barman has said the state government will issue an order soon to distribute compensation among tea garden workers in north Bengal for damage caused by elephants to houses and crops.

According to the current rules, no person staying on leased land (like tea estates) can get compensation from the government in case their properties are damaged by animals. The rules don’t prohibit the payment of compensation to those who stay on their own land or in forest areas if the properties are damaged by the wild animals.

“For the first time, workers of tea gardens will receive compensation from the forest department like other villagers,” Barman said at a programme organised to celebrate Wildlife Day at Falakata yesterday.

“After I became the forest minister, garden workers requested me to make an arrangement so that they could also receive compensation in case their huts or crops are destroyed by elephants. I spoke to the forest officers and asked them to take necessary steps to simplify the rules. The process is complete and an order (to that effect) will be issued very soon,” said the minister.

Forest sources said the present rules provided for the payment of compensation to villagers (those other than tea garden dwellers) for deaths and damage to houses and crops in animal raids. “In the case of garden people, the compensation is limited to deaths. The forest departments pays Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased,” said a source.

Barman said a proposal had been sent to the finance department to double the compensation for death.

Elephant raids are common across north Bengal, including the 165 tea plantations that dot the Dooars. Earlier, tea plantations were not part of the panchayats and garden residents used to demand compensation from the management. In 1998, Dooars gardens became parts of gram panchayats and after that, the estate owners often asked the affected workers to knock on the doors of the block development offices to claim compensation for damage caused by animals.

Caught in the tug-of-war, the affected residents often did not get any help either from the management or the administration.

Amitangshu Chakroborty, the advisor to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, Jalpaiguri, said: “We are grateful to the minister. Every year, the garden owners have to bear huge expenses to repair huts damaged by animals.”