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Survey shows garden woes

May 11: A survey by the state labour department has shown that of the 273 tea estates in north Bengal, 42 don’t have a primary school.

The survey revealed that the creches, which are supposed to run in the tea gardens to take care of toddlers while their mothers are away at work, lack necessary facilities and manpower.

“The survey, which has been carried out in 273 tea estates across the Terai, Dooars and the Darjeeling hills, shows that there is not even a primary school in 42 tea estates. Children living in these tea estates have to go out of the gardens for studies. The remaining 231 tea estates have at least one primary school in the garden area,” said a senior official of state labour department on condition of anonymity.

In 2011, after the Trinamul Congress-led government came to power in the state, it decided to conduct an extensive survey on the tea gardens. The task was given to the labour department. The survey was completed recently.

“The managements of only 143 of the 273 tea estates provide transport to children. In other gardens, transport has to be arranged for by the residents,” said a source.

“For entertainment and sports, however, the infrastructure is slightly better. Of the 273 gardens, there are clubs in 197 and playgrounds in 262,” he added.

According to the survey, there are no creches in three of the 273 gardens.

“There is a clear guideline that creches should be run in every garden. But the situation is pathetic in most cases,” said the source.

The Plantation Labour Act, 1951, states that garden owners should maintain creches for children (below six years) whose mothers work in the plantations.

“In Bhagatpur Tea Estate of Dooars, there is no woman worker to look after the children in the garden creche. Of the 273 gardens, drinking water is available only in creches of 144 estates and bathrooms are in 119 tea estates. Washing facility is available in creches of 133 tea estates. Milk is given to children only in 144 tea estates. Children in the other 126 gardens do not get milk. Of the 270 creches, the women employees of 128 wear uniforms,” he added.

A series of recommendations have been made in the survey report.

“It has been found that in many cases, vehicles like tractors and trailers (carriage pulled by tractor) are used as transport for school children. It has been recommended that only buses should be used for taking children to school,” an official said.

“It has been proposed that anganwadi centres, run by the government across the state to take care of children, should be opened in gardens where the infrastructure and facilities are inadequate in creches,” he added.

The survey shows the infrastructure of the canteens, which are supposed to be run by the management to provide food at cheaper prices to workers is bad.

“There are no canteens in 125 estates. Of the remaining 148, the management gives subsidy on food sold in canteens only in 43 estates. While only in 33 estates, the rate chart is available in canteens,” labour department sources said.

Representatives of tea trade unions have sought the state government’s intervention to tackle the situation.

“We have many times pointed out such shortcomings in most tea estates of north Bengal but the management has hardly bothered to listen to us. Despite being responsible to provide these facilities like transport to school children, milk to toddlers in creche and likewise, most garden owners evade responsibilities,” Chitta Dey, the convener of the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, said.

“Now that the government has used its own machinery to conduct the survey and knows the facts, we want it to intervene and instruct tea planters to bridge these gaps,” he said.