(From left) Mullick and Deb in the Raipur tea garden on Sunday. Picture by Biplab Basak
June 29: Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick today said he had asked officials to allot ration cards within four days to all residents of the closed Raipur Tea Estate and appointed special inspectors for speedy despatch of food grain to all shut gardens in the Dooars.
North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb who accompanied Mullick to the Raipur garden near Jalpaiguri today gave away Rs 5,000 each to the next of kin of six persons who had died there in the past seven days. The six died of purported malnutrition.
Five garden workers who had been suffering from tuberculosis were also admitted to hospitals last night.
The visit by the ministers was prompted by the deaths of six persons in Raipur which had been shut since September last year. Deb and Mullick held talks with members of the local Patkata gram panchayat, workers and their families in the estate office.
“It is disappointing to see that workers are being provided with inferior quality food grains through the ration system. I have categorically told the district food controller (of Jalpaiguri) to ensure that all residents of Raipur receive ration cards by next Thursday,” Mullick said.
“It has been also decided that special inspectors (who are above the rank of food inspectors) will be posted in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts to ensure that there is no delay in the dispatch and distribution of food grains in the closed tea gardens in the Dooars,” he added.
Sources said 2,282 residents of Raipur had ration cards, while over 3,000 others were yet to get them. Five tea plantations are shut in the Dooars at present.
Deb said a meeting would be convened at Uttarkanya in Siliguri tomorrow to discuss the garden’s state of affairs.
“Panchayat members and officials have been called to the meeting,” said Deb, who handed over Rs 5,000 to each of the six families.
The garden dwellers told the ministers that Raipur lacked minimum facilities.
“The rice provided to workers as special relief and through the ration system is of inferior quality. There is no arrangement for drinking water in the garden,” said Pradhan Hembram, a worker and a panchayat member.
Babita Oraon, a woman worker, pointed out the problems at the ICDS centres run for children.
“We have seven ICDS centres in the garden where children go to study and are entitled to mid-day meals. None of these centres has a kitchen and five do not give meals to children on a regular basis,” she said.
According to the workers, the Centre’s 100-day work scheme has been irregular in Raipur. “We get jobs for hardly a week after which we sit idle for two months. Unless the garden is reopened, we cannot be saved,” said Budhua Oraon, another worker. “Now that the ministers have come and seen our plight, we want them to intervene and see that the garden reopens at the earliest.”
B.S. Basumata, the assistant chief medical officer of health, Jalpaiguri, said four Raipur workers were suffering from tuberculosis and were shifted to the TB hospital in Jalpaiguri last night.
“Another worker, who is in a serious condition because of TB, was admitted to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri last night,” he said.
A report provided by health workers has shown that 62 people had died from various diseases in Raipur from September 23, 2009, to December 24, 2012. From October 25, 2013, to June 26, 2014, 28 people died because of health problems, says the report.
The garden, 50km from Siliguri, had closed down in 2002 and reopened in 2010. When the estate was closed last year, it was being run by Mohini Mohan Saha, though the plantation is registered in the name of Amritpur Tea Company Private Limited.
The management closed the garden without citing any reason.
Saha or any official of the company couldn’t be contacted. But representatives of all five tea planters’ associations in the Dooars said Raipur was not a member garden of any of them. “The situation is not at all good in Raipur. There is information that the owner is trying to sell it,” said a senior official of one of the associations.
The ministers said they would talk to the officials of the labour department to see that the garden was reopened through talks.