Subhash Naskar (extreme right) and other Left MLAs speak to workers in Raipur tea garden on Friday. Picture by Biplab Basak
July 4: Employees of a closed Dooars tea estate that recently saw six deaths because of suspected malnutrition today cornered a visiting Left Front team of MLAs that had gone to speak to workers about the hardships they faced.
The workers asked the team of seven, led by RSP MLA Subhash Naskar, what the Left was doing when garden employees were dying in the Dooars during Left rule.
“During your rule, nobody came to help us, except some officials. You couldn’t do anything to reopen Raipur and other closed gardens over the years. We will listen to you only if you can assure us that the Left will facilitate the reopening of Raipur garden,” said Ajoy Ghosh, one of the workers who had gathered to listen to the Left team.
The garden was shut between 2002 and 2010. A report provided by health workers serving in the garden has shown that between September 23, 2009, and December 24, 2012, over 60 people had died in Raipur.
Trinamul came to power in Bengal in 2011.
The Raipur garden shut in September last year again. From October 25, 2013, to June 26, 2014, 28 people died in Raipur.
No state government, either of the Left or Trinamul, has officially stated malnutrition as the reason for deaths in the closed gardens in the Dooars.
The trip by the Left team was prompted by the death of six garden residents, two of them children, from purported malnutrition in the last week of June.
“The workers of Raipur are not getting 20kg rice and 14kg of wheat (per family per month) at the rate of Rs 2 per kilo (under Antyodaya Annapurna Yojana). No basic services are available in the garden. We have information that three workers, Shankar Baraik, Banku Oraon, and Bishnu Oraon are ill and no step has been taken to treat them,” Naskar told the assembled media after speaking to the workers.
The moment Naskar finished, Pradhan Hembram, the local Patkata panchayat Trinamul member, said the MLA’s charge was wrong.
“Please don’t mislead the media by providing false information. Families of the three ailing workers and all others have already been given 12kg of rice and 4kg of flour free of cost,” Hembram said.
Naskar was taken aback by Hembram’s reaction. He then said garden workers aged over 60 years were not getting money from the state under Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries (FAWLOI) scheme.
Hembram cut in and asked what the erstwhile Left government had done for the Raipur estate. “What have you done during Left Front rule? I was in the CPM then. Not a single minister of the erstwhile government visited Raipur even once to check out the situation of the workers. Now you have come here to do politics over the issue,” Hembram said.
Labour department sources said the garden with 587 workers would be eligible to receive Rs 1,000 each from the state under FAWLOI if an industrial unit is shut for at least one year, but that is not the case for Raipur.
“Also, a worker would retire at the age of 60 and after that, he/she is not eligible to receive the money,” said a source.
Naskar said the Left team was visiting the estate not to do politics over the deaths.
“The role of the Left government can be debated but we don’t want to get into those things. We want the government to pay Rs 2 lakh to the families of the six deceased persons,” he said.
Kajol Ghosh, a Raipur employee, interrupted Naskar. “The food grains sent by the government and relief materials received from other sources have been properly distributed among workers. You have spoken to the workers who told you about their distressed condition but simultaneously mentioned that they had received food grains. Yet you are making wrong statements.”