The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jumbo threat stalks tea workers

Alipurduar, Oct. 11: Wild elephants spell double trouble for workers of tea estates in the Dooars: the animals often stray into the gardens and destroy property, but the workers get no compensation for it from the forest department.

Compensation is paid only if a life is lost, in which case the bereaved family gets Rs 1 lakh.

This, despite the fact that the tea labourers were brought under the panchayat system in 1998. Unlike them, villagers in gram panchayat areas get compensation from the forest department whenever wild elephants damage standing crop or houses.

Forest officials said the anomaly existed because the garden workers live on leased land (all estates are on land leased from the government). Compensation is not paid in such cases, the foresters added.

To make matters worse, elephant attacks on tea estates appear to be on the rise.

In September, at least 30 workers’ quarters, including a few semi-pucca houses, in Tasati Tea Estate in Falakata were completely destroyed by wild elephants. In the same month in Binnaguri Tea Estate, a herd razed another 30 huts to the ground.

In the aftermath of these attacks, a meeting between planters and foresters was held on October 2 to discuss the issue of compensation, but it failed to find any solution.

“Earlier, forest officials told us that the tea gardens are on elephant corridors and damage is inevitable. But recently the animals are even straying into gardens like Tasati, Subhashini and Singhania, which are far from the corridors, and wreaking havoc,” said Sanjoy Bagchi, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian tea Planters’ Association.

“The gardens are in poor financial condition and cannot afford the extra money required to repair the damage. Under the circumstances, the affected workers are forced to take shelter at relatives’ places or spend their days under tarpaulin sheets. If the forest department cannot compensate for damage to the huts, they should at least provide money for the belongings.”

“We cannot pay compensation to tea labourers because the gardens are on leased land. There is a government order against it. If we get a new order, we will compensate them.”

Bengal forest minister Ananta Roy said he would look into the matter.

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