Jalpaiguri, April 3: Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta today declared a special grant of Rs 16 crore for the closed tea gardens of the Dooars belt.
The minister was here this morning to work out solutions to problems that have scourged thousands of residents in the brew belt for the past five years.
“Given the present state of affairs, we have decided to ensure minimum universal coverage to each resident of these gardens,” Dasgupta said at a news conference at the circuit house here this evening. “We have attempted to extend possible assistance to workers and will render an all-out effort to reopen the gardens in the next three months.”
The Rs-16 crore fund, he said, has been earmarked for the next three months only. “We will sit for a review after the period and in case there is no major breakthrough, another allotment would be made,” he assured.
Dasgupta, who posed himself as a trouble shooter of the government, said the state would soon, in connivance with the provident funds department initiate action against planters who have fled from estates leaving crores as PF dues.
“We have asked the superintendent of police to crosscheck whether complaints have been registered against such owners or not,” he said. “We will then take up the issue with PF department and will consult our advocate general and other senior lawyers.”
Other important decisions that Dasgupta declared today include recruitment of doctors on contractual basis (see chart) at least for a year in all the closed tea gardens.
Before the administrative meeting in the afternoon, Dasgupta visited Redbank tea estate, one of the closed gardens at Banarhat, around 70 km from here. There he had an hour-long discussion with workers who quizzed him on development schemes and alternative means of livelihood.
The minister had answers ready for queries raised by Gopal Sarki, Santi Khesh, Rekha Brahmin and Mantu Sarkar. “We are ready to supply seeds, saplings and fertiliser free of cost. You should start agriculture (read multicropping) on unused garden land.”
The government has also decided to create more jobs under the 100-day-work scheme in estates by including tasks like pruning of tea bushes. “The three tea estates, where we have cancelled the lease, are government property now. Any work done there would be considered as public work. Regarding other gardens, we feel that there are options to create more employment opportunities and include these in the 100-days-work scheme,” Dasgupta said.
“We are also contemplating the formation of self-help groups in gardens, especially among women. On an individual basis, we can sanction sewing machines and similar equipment for self-employment,” he added.
Taking a dig at the Centre, Dasgupta said the Union government has hardly taken any steps to reopen closed estates or acquire them.
“Under the Tea Act, only the Centre can acquire closed gardens and hand them over to new entrepreneurs. We feel the Union government should come forward and cooperate with us to break the deadlock, especially when we have already declared a waiver on cess to such entrepreneurs,” he said.