| Workers at the free medical camp organised at Chungthung. Picture by Suman Tamang
Chungthung Tea Estate, Sept. 4: With the garden remaining closed for the better part of the year, a large number of workers of this estate have started suffering from malnutrition and related diseases like tuberculosis.
A team of eight doctors and paramedics who attended a free medical camp organised by the Rotary Club of Darjeeling in collaboration with World Touch, an NGO here, were of the opinion that almost 70 per cent of children and women were showing signs of malnutrition.
This is the same estate which made news when social activist Baburam Dewan committed suicide in February 2006 to demand the immediate reopening of the garden that had been shut down in January. This was after the workers refused to accept the conditions of East India Produce (the owners), including three days’ salary for six days of work and an increase in working hours from eight to nine.
“A simple check-up has shown that the residents, mostly children, are suffering from malnutrition. We believe tuberculosis is also on the rise as many workers complained of chest pain,” said Dr D.K. Sharma, who is also the president of the club.
The garden management is supposed to take care of the medical needs of the workers but with the estate remaining closed, there has been a lack of proper health facilities. “We cannot go to Darjeeling (about 20 km away) for a regular check-up and this free medical camp was of great help,” said Dalbahadur Tamang, a worker who attended the camp.
Of the 1,252 labourers, only 621 attended the camp here, as many of them have already left the garden for work elsewhere. Medicines worth Rs 25,000 were distributed free of cost among those who came.
Apart from malnutrition, the doctors have also found that a large number of housewives suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. “Most of the women complained of dizziness and I believe it is because of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the use of wood for cooking purposes. To make matters worse, the labour quarters are poorly ventilated and workers here cannot afford smokeless chullas,” said Dr P.D. Bhutia.
The district administration maintained that it will look into the findings and take necessary measures. “We will distribute about eight tonnes of rice and two tonnes of wheat by September 25. A list will be compiled by the gram panchayts to ensure that relief reaches them,” said Sonam Bhutia, BDO, Bijanbari.