| Dilip, who lost his father Suresh Thathani, a worker of Ramjhora, on February 21. A Telegraph picture
Alipurduar, Feb. 28: News of Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s proposed visit to Ramjhora tomorrow has been enough to open the floodgates of funds in the closed estate, abandoned since August 2002.
The district administration has announced that money due for nine months under the FAWLOI — funds assistance for workers of locked our industries — has been deposited in the bank accounts of the nearly 1,000 labourers of the garden.
Under the scheme, each worker is entitled to Rs 4,500 as arrears from April to December 2006. They can access the money from next week. The amount due from January-March 2007 will be available by the end of next month.
The death toll in the garden in the last 10 days has reached five. Workers claim that 138 people have died in the garden due to starvation and malnutrition in the past five years.
Today, however, things were a bit different. Administrative officials made several visits to the estate throughout the day. They distributed coupons for special ration among the workers and also started the 100 days work scheme. District health officers visited all the households to make a list of the sick and ailing. They also distributed the phone number of Birpara hospital to the workers so that an ambulance could be sent in case any of the garden residents fell ill.
Confirming the flurry of activity, P.D. Pradhan, the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, said: “Coupons were distributed today among workers to collect the special ration under which 18 kg of wheat will be given to each family. The central job scheme has also been started.”
A small pandal has been put up in the garden where Gandhi is expected to deliver a speech. The sudden buzz of activity and the attention of the administrative staff — a rarity in the more than four years of closure — have brought some hope to the workers, who have already started dreaming of a rosy future. “We believe the governor’s visit will prompt the administration to open the estate. We don’t expect much but want to live a normal life,” said a labourer.
K.B. Dorji, the additional superintendent of police, Alipurduar, visited the garden today to check the security arrangement.
Manna Lal Jain, a member of the Pradesh Congress Committee in Birpara and a leader of the Intuc, said: “We have appealed to the administration to give us a chance to talk to the governor, but there was no reply. We would like to describe to him the actual picture of the closed tea gardens of the Dooars.”