The Telegraph
Saturday , January 25 , 2014
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Two die in closed Dooars garden
- Estate short of food, medicine

Jan. 24: Two persons died in the closed Dharanipur Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri last night from suspected malnutrition and lack of treatment.

The garden in Malbazar subdivision is closed since October last year. It had 357 workers at the time of closure and since then, around 10 people have died.

Yesterday, worker Amlal Bikiasol, 45, from Kali labour line, and Genor Munda, 40, a resident of Panighata labour line, died.

“After the estate was shut, the clinic in the garden was also closed. We have four members in the family and for the past one week, my wife had been ill. She was suffering from high fever and weakness because of lack of proper food,” Genor’s husband Laxman said.

“Last night, she died because of lack of treatment. The nearest hospital is 17km away and we did not have the money to take her there,” said the husband.

Dharanipur estate, along with Red Bank and Surendranagar gardens, all belonging to the Red Bank Group, were closed last year. The clinics on the three estates, which provided basic treatment to workers, were also shut. The only hospital was in the Red Bank garden (6km from Dharanipur). But that also closed down after the estate was shut.

“Dharanipur closed down on October 24 last year. We were supposed to get a fortnight’s wage and bonus. But the management did not pay any dues. It is tough to get two square meals a day for all the family members,” Amlal’s neighbour Bablu Hansda said. Since October-November last year, the garden workers have got only 12kg rice.

“There are 10 members in Amlal’s family. Because of lack of food and absence of basic treatment he fell ill. He did not have woollens. His family could not hire a vehicle to take him to the hospital that is 17km away.”

Most workers of Dharanipur are day labourers in Banarhat or Nagrakata or do odd jobs. A lot of young garden residents have left the state in search of jobs.

A worker from the garden, 45km from Jalpaiguri town, said: “There have been deaths because of malnutrition and lack of treatment in the other two closed gardens of the group last year. Owner Robin Paul has no intention of reopening the gardens. We want the state to bring in a new entrepreneur who can reopen the gardens to save us and our families.”

In Red Bank and Surendranagar gardens, at least 15 people have died since the closure.

“Since Dharanipur was shut, the state has distributed 12kg of rice to each worker. For a permanent solution, we would urge the state government to remove Robin Paul and bring in a new owner,” said Munna Karmakar, a leader of Trinamul-backed Terai Dooars Plantation Workers’ Union.

“Health camps are irregular here. The district health administration must see to it that NGOs organise camps at regular intervals,” he added.

Jagannath Sarkar, chief medical officer of health, Jalpaiguri, said: “We have no information about the deaths. We have sent a health team from Nagrakata to the estate today.”

Jyotirmoy Tanti, subdivisional officer of Malbazar, said: “We are trying to find out why health camps are not being held regularly. Instructions have been given to distribute warm clothes among the residents. We are planning to introduce 100-days’ work scheme for the jobless workers and distribute free food grains among them.”

Ingdong shut

The management of Ingdong Tea Estate in the Dooars announced suspension of work on Thursday citing lawlessness.

The garden, 60km from Siliguri, has 1,200-odd workers.

Work was getting affected for the past fortnight as manager Rajat Deb had left. “We were not getting wages, rations and other dues on time,” said Ganesh Chik Baraik, of Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union. “The management announced annual leave (without pay) for a fortnight without any discussion.”

On Wednesday, Manas Sarkar, an assistant manager, was brought back aggravating the situation. “He was accused of molesting a woman in the garden and removed from his post,” Baraik said.

Manager Rajat Deb said: “Yesterday, workers demonstrated demanding Sarkar’s removal. They also forced managerial staff members and their families to leave. The management had no other option but to announce suspension of work. We want administrative intervention.”

The workers denied the allegations. “They thrust the notice in the hands of a night guard and left. There was no deterioration of law and order situation,” said a worker.

Subdivisional officer, Malbazar, Jyotirmoy Tanti, said he was yet to receive a formal notice from the management.