| Mamata Banerjee addresses the crowd at Sikarpur-Bhandapur. A Telegraph picture
Raipur & Sikarpur-Bhandapur tea estates (Jalpaiguri), June 17: Poor homework and incomplete briefing almost marred Mamata Banerjee’s first visit to closed tea gardens in the Dooars, but she managed to pull through.
It was the promise to take up the cudgels on behalf of the suffering tea workers and Tapas Pal’s songs that helped the Trinamul Congress chief win over the crowds. It even earned her several rounds of applause during her stopovers at two of the gardens today.
“The CPM-led state government has sold Darjeeling hills to Subash Ghisingh. Now it is trying to sell the closed tea estates to promoters,” she said, addressing two gatherings at Raipur and Sikarpur-Bhandapur tea estates this afternoon. “We have formed Save Farmland Committees in Singur and Nandigram. Now, we call on every resident of the closed estates to form a Save Tea Garden Committee.”
Emotional as the appeal may be, it did little to hide her ignorance, especially when she launched her tirade against the Tatas.
“We have heard that Tata Group, which owns tea estates here, is closing down and exploiting workers,” she said oblivious to the fact that all the four Tata gardens are running well in the Dooars.
Asked later, Mamata failed to name any of the Tata garden but said workers of these estates had written to her about being exploited.
At the meeting in Sikarpur-Bhandapur, 30 km from Siliguri, Mamata calculated the tentative population of the garden as 80,000. She, however, rectified it to 8,000 after a party leader whispered the realistic figure on stage.
The poor homework again came to the fore when she interacted with journalists. The Trinamul chief could not furnish any specific proposal that her party would pursue in the closed gardens but harped instead on the need for an extra allocation of Rs 70 crore from the state over and above the Rs 16 crore sanctioned for the first quarter of this fiscal.
“We have heard that more than a thousand people have died in the gardens. A core group comprising 15 leaders of the region has been formed and they will soon send a report on the tea estates to me,” she said on her way to Shikarpur from Raipur.
Gautam Deb, the Darjeeling district Trinamul president, has been made chairman of the core group.
At the end of her speech in Shikarpur, actor turned Trinamul MLA from Alipore Tapas Pal took the dais and belted out: “Bashbo bhalo/ Rakhbo bhore (Will love you and keep you close to the heart)” from one of his films to a cheering crowd. He sung the same two lines in Raipur, 50 km from Siliguri, as well.
Earlier, Mamata, too, had got her share of the applause when she said: “The state is spending Rs 135 crore as subsidy for the Tatas at Singur but is silent about extending financial help of Rs 70 crore which I know is enough to revive all the closed tea estates.”
“In case a north Bengal-wide movement fails to attract government attention, we will hold demonstrations at the tea board and other government offices in Calcutta.”
The Trinamul chief was vocal about women trafficking. “Hundreds of girls and women are being smuggled out of tea gardens. They are being made victims of poverty. It is a shame for the chief minister whose government has failed to stop the practice,” she told reporters.
The party plans to demonstrate in front of the Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner’s office on July 9, demanding the reopening of the closed gardens.