| tragic tale
|• Garden closed since August 11, 2002
• 137 people have died during this period, four in the last one week
• Number of workers:1,103
• Owner: Hanuman Tea Company Limited
• Total area: 604.46 hectares
• Area under cultivation: 452.35 hectares
Alipurduar, Feb. 25: A 59-year-old woman died in Ramjhora Tea Estate yesterday, taking the toll in the garden to four in the past seven days.
Families of all the four deceased have alleged that death was due to starvation, the symptoms of which were anaemia, nausea and dysentery.
Around 75 km from here, Ramjhora has been closed almost for five years.
Jyotirmoy Halder, the block medical officer of health of Madarihat-Birpara, admitted that most of the people are starving. “They need food before being treated for other diseases. We have told the workers to inform us immediately when any of their family members fall ill. We will take them to Birpara State General Hospital at our own expense, but family members have to accompany them.”
Like Fulmani, who died yesterday, her sister Juhungi Dey is also suffering from “stomach ailments” and she has been advised to take admission to the Birpara hospital.
“We wanted to bring her, but nobody from her family was ready to accompany her,” said Halder. “We generally hold camps in the local gram panchayat office twice a week. We have asked workers to attend them.”
Aboni Das, the sabhapati of Madarihat-Birpara panchayat samiti, and Matias Lepcha, the joint block development officer, visited the garden today. Administrative officials distributed 24 kg of rice and Rs 60 to 12 families, whose members are ailing, under the Antyodaya Yojna.
Bhushan Chakroborty, the chief medical officer of health for Jalpaiguri, however, avoided the starvation issue.
Instead, he said: “We are conducting health camps in the local gram panchayat office. The people of the garden should visit the hospital otherwise it is difficult for us to attend to them.”
For the past few weeks, Ramjhora has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Workers claim that 133 people have died of starvation and malnutrition in the garden since its closure on August 11, 2002. Once upon a time there were 1,103 workers here. At least half the number has left for Bhutan, 12 km from here, to work in dolomite factories.
Despite chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s instruction to the district administration to take care of the workers of closed gardens, labourers of this estate have not yet received the Rs 500 FAWLOI (financial assistance for workers of locked out industries) for the last 10 months.
Ramesh Sharma, the secretary of the garden unit of National Union of Plantation Workers, said: “The relief is not sufficient for a family. The only way out is opening the estate.”
Workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate gheraoed the members of the operations and maintenance committee (OMC) to protest against the alleged selling of made tea from the factory secretly.
The garden is lying closed for more than one year. The workers claimed that the OMC was supposed to take their permission before selling 24,000 kg of tea lying in the factory.