| Gandhi talks to a worker at the Ramjhora estate. Picture by Biplab Basak
Ramjhora Tea Estate (Alipurduar), March 1: Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi today visited this closed garden “to talk to workers about their condition and not to give a speech”.
The Ramjhora garden, situated around 75 km from Alipurduar town, has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. With the estate remaining closed for five years and the 100-day work scheme hardly in place, deaths and malnutrition dominate the scene there. Niulish Soren, a 20-day-old child in the New Line, died last night, while just after Gandhi left the estate today, another death was reported, taking the toll to seven over the past 12 days. The deceased was Lal Kanchha Mirza (59), a resident of Top Line.
During his almost two-hour stay at Ramjhora, the governor never, for once, “wasted time” and even declined Jalpaiguri district magistrate R. Ranjit’s request to “take a seat.”
Getting off the car, Gandhi headed straight for the labour lines, where he had a “question-answer” session with workers. Learning that most of the labourers of the estate now have to break boulders on river beds or work in dolomite quarries in Bhutan, he said: “I am surprised to see patta tornewale log abhi patthar tor rahe hai (pluckers are now breaking boulders).”
In the labour lines, as he entered Shib Nandan Karketta’s hut, a scene of penury greeted him. Appalled by the conditions there, Gandhi showed Karketta’s two daughters, Pushpita and Swapna, to minister Manohar Tirkey and told him that they could not have a better picture of malnutrition than here. “During the day, the sisters share a bread between the two of them,” a neighbour told Gandhi, who directed the CMOH to take care of them and all those who were suffering from malnutrition.
Gandhi also told Tirkey to immediately arrange for drinking water and electricity. As he talked to labourers, the women there came up to him, begging him to reopen the estate. Sunita Lal, a worker, said over the past five years, no assistance has come their way.
Gandhi apparently learnt about the pathetic condition of closed gardens from reports in The Telegraph and lauded the media for bringing the distressing news to the fore. Still hoping that he would be able to help T.K. Sarki (36), who had a fatal infection originating from a fracture in his spine, the governor went to his hut to learn that Sarki had already died.
Later, the governor checked the ration cards under Antodyayo Yojna. The labourers also complained that they hardly got any job under food-for-work schemes. Moreover, the nearest subcenter did not even have any medicine and could not even provide the basic medical help to them. The wrath of the residents was fuelled by Sudeep Mandal, the doctor at the Birpara hospital, who told Gandhi that only a few residents suffered from malnutrition.
Gandhi, however, did not pay much heed to the doctor and asked trade union leaders to work together, setting aside their political differences.