The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brew heat fires up winter House

Calcutta, Dec. 2: Rumblings of the Dalgaon massacre and starvation deaths in the north Bengal tea gardens were felt today in the Assembly, which witnessed noisy scenes and heated exchanges as the political temperature shot up.

Trinamul Congress legislators staged a walkout after Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim rejected a call attention motion by party MLA Saugata Roy to discuss the tea garden problems.

Pushed to the wall by the Opposition for failing to protect the garden workers, labour minister Mohammed Amin told the House the government had little power to reopen the closed gardens but was doing its best to provide relief to the labourers.

Trouble started soon after the Speaker entered the House during the morning session. Opposition legislators started clamouring for the resignation of Amin, who, they claimed, had failed to save hundreds of tea garden workers from starving to death. This was followed by Congress and Trinamul MLAs trooping into the well of the House, chanting slogans against the government.

While some of the legislators distributed news clippings and photographs of the distressed tea garden workers among their colleagues, Trinamul MLAs Partha Chatterjee, Sonali Guha and Asok Deb cornered Amin on the issue. Government chief whip Rabin Deb’s efforts to calm the protesters and the Speaker’s continuous hammering and pleas to MLAs for silence proved futile.

Normality returned only to vanish within 30 minutes.

As soon as Trinamul legislator Saugata Roy raised the issue of starvation deaths, the Opposition benches raised their voice, demanding that the government come out with the latest statistics on the tea belt and the measures it has taken to prevent more starvation deaths.

Admitting that the situation in the brew belt was “worrying”, the man under fire said: “It is not that the government is silent. We have decided to pay Rs 500 every month to all workers of closed tea gardens. Besides, the panchayats and zilla parishads have been asked to provide foodgrain and sink tubewells. We have also asked the panchayats to engage out-of-work labourers in different development projects.”

The tea garden owners were to blame for the situation, he added. “The owners did not implement the tripartite agreement and deprived the workers. Neither have they invested funds nor taken steps for replantation. They earned from the gardens but did not increase production or improve the quality of tea. The dipping tea price is another cause of the tea industry’s woes,’’ Amin told the House.

Cong walkout

Congress MLAs staged a walkout from the Assembly this afternoon in protest against an arrest warrant issued against Behrampore panchayat samiti member Satyen Chowdhury.

Congress MLA Asit Mitra said in the lobby the CPM had connived with the police to harass the leader. Chowdhury is absconding.

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