The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Talwar blow to garden relief claims
- Reality check

Bharnobari Tea Estate (Alipurduar), March 5: Punching holes into the Bengal government’s claim that it has stood by workers of closed estates, Anuradha Talwar today said there was considerable difference between reports sent to her by the Jalpaiguri district administration and the “actual” state of affairs.

The adviser from Bengal to the food commissioner of the Supreme Court was in Bharnobari — closed since December 2005 — this afternoon.

“By not covering the workers of this estate under the BPL category, the state government has violated the instruction of the Supreme Court,” said Talwar. The apex court had in 2004 asked the state government to include the labourers of all closed estates under this category. She urged “workers to unite and move as a single force, failing which their problem would never be solved”.

Earlier, a recce to the labour lines had revealed the “actual” picture. Talwar’s queries on BPL facilities, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Antodaya Annapurna Yojna and ration cards brought out the plight of the likes of Fulmani Kharia and the Gholes.

Residents of the Koila line, the Gholes — Lala and his wife Koushila — had suffered burn injuries almost a month ago. From then on, they have been languishing in bed going without meals for days, leave alone treatment. Talwar said it was unusual that job cards for the rural employment schemes, which should be with the workers, were kept in the panchayat office. She came down heavily on Madan Rout, the pradhan of Malangi, amid allegations levelled by workers that the job cards were being manipulated. “That is why they keep them in the offices,” said a worker.

The pradhan, however, refused to alone take the blame for not properly implementing the rural schemes. He made the block development officer (BDO) a party to the “crime”. Warden Tshering Lepcha, the BDO of Kalchini block, was unavailable for comment.

The Gholes claimed that their elder son Subhash was the sole bread-winner of the five-member family. The 14-year-old earns around Rs 500 a month from an eatery in Hashimara. Fulmani Kharia of the Chhota Bandhu line told Talwar that since her husband’s death a year ago, she has managed to arrange for only one meal a day for her three children by selling firewood.

After her arrival at the garden, 46 km from Alipurduar town, around noon, Talwar had first visited the staff quarters before going over to the labour lines. Topping the list of grievances there was the fear that the electricity connection to the estate might be snapped soon as bills of more than Rs 3 crore were yet to be paid to the power department. This, the staff members said, would affect the drinking water supply to the closed garden.

“The district administration report said the workers were covered by the Antodaya Annapurna Yojna and they have been getting work under the rural work scheme. But Fulmani is a proof that the actual scene is different. She is without work and had last received 18 kg of grain on February 22. Today she made bread but went without food herself so that she could feed her children…This is a clear picture of starvation,” said Talwar.

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