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Govt lays down garden relief plan

Siliguri, July 15: The state government today announced the formation of a co-ordination committee that would keep track of aid and health care to closed and ailing garden s in north Bengal.

The move comes at a time six people died in a single Dooars garden in a week last month when the estate was shut.

The four ministers who made the announcement also said that the government would set up ICDS centres and open drinking water points at the five closed gardens in the Dooars and Raipur estate where six persons had died recently.

Two persons have died in Redbank and Bandapani tea estates in the last fortnight.

Cheap housing and subsidised food grain would be made available to residents of the five shut estates, 23 ailing gardens in the hills and the Dooars and Terai as well as Raipur, which has recently found an owner.

The ministers who met at Uttarkanya before the announcements were made are north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, labour minister Malay Ghatak, food minister Jyotipriya Mullick and minister of state for health Chandrima Bhattacharya.

“A co-ordination committee comprising officials of different departments has been formed to look into the affairs of closed and sick estates. The committee would be given space at Uttarkanya and members will sit at least once a week to monitor the situation in gardens and send reports to the government,” Deb said after the meeting.

“We will open five ICDS centres and five drinking water supply points in each of the five closed estates and Raipur. Houses would be provided to 237 families in these estates under Gitanjali scheme and 88 families under Indira Awas Yojana,” Deb said.

Mullick said the five closed gardens and Raipur were being given food grain since these had shut down. “There are 23 other gardens (10 each in the Dooars and Terai and three in Darjeeling hills) that are sick. We have given food grain under (weekly) Antodaya Annapurna Yojana (rice and wheat at Rs 2 per kg, total 35kg of food grain per family a month) in the sick gardens. After these gardens reopen and the schemes are discontinued, the estates shut again. All residents of the 23 estates, 98,000-odd, would be given food grains for a year to avoid closure.”

Under the Plantation Labour Act, owners are liable to provide ration at subsidised rates, accommodation, drinking water, medical facilities and firewood.

“For about 10 years, particularly after the economic slump in the industry (1998-2004), planters have been demanding that social costs (accommodation, water, medical help, firewood and transport for schoolchildren) be borne by government through different schemes,” a planter in Siliguri said. “Today’s announcements would indirectly benefit garden owners.”

Mullick said nine ration shops, to be run by self-help groups, would be opened. “Five would be opened on the fringes of the five closed estates. Two would be opened near Kanthalguri and one each near Raipur and Dalmore,” he said.

Today, a three-day-old infant of a garden worker died in Raipur.

Wage demand

Trinamul union INTTUC has said the daily wage of garden workers should be Rs 206 although the party’s hill leaders had demanded a wage between Rs 300 and Rs 350.

Dola Sen, the state president of INTTUC, said today: “Wages should be Rs 206 according to the minimum wage act. We cannot go beyond but will ensure that it is Rs 206.”

Hill garden workers get Rs 90 daily and those in Dooars and Terai get Rs 95.

A wage meeting is scheduled in Siliguri tomorrow.