Monday, 30th October 2017

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GTA creates fund to help hill tea workers

Tea gardens of north Bengal employ around 4 lakh people

By Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling
  • Published 25.03.20, 3:16 AM
  • Updated 25.03.20, 3:16 AM
  • a min read
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Women keep a safe distance during work in the Chengmari tea garden in Jalpaiguri on Tuesday. (Biplab Basak)

GTA chief Anit Thapa on Tuesday announced a relief fund to pay workers of tea gardens in the hills “during the lockdown” and appealed for contributions to the corpus.

Although the Bengal government hasn’t locked the tea industry down, almost all political and apolitical organisations are demanding the closure given that garden labourers work in clusters and hence, they are at the risk of contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

On the other hand, the GNLF declared “closure” of tea gardens in the hills from Wednesday, maintaining that “lives of workers are more important than profits”. Plucking of Darjeeling Tea’s premium first flush is currently on.

There are reports that many workers didn’t turn up in tea gardens in the Dooars and the Terai on Tuesday.

In the absence of a clear instruction from the government regarding the tea gardens, the bigger question was over workers’ payment.

Tea gardens of north Bengal employ around 4 lakh people.

Thapa said while he, too, had appealed for the closure of the gardens, “the issue of wage” was important.

“We should not just wait for the government and the owners and we have to find our own way out. It is true that no issue is bigger than the virus. But wages are also important. We must not be emotional at this hour and use our brain,” said Thapa.

The GTA has appealed to all contractors and businessman to contribute to the relief fund and said the primary purpose would be to pay the garden workers. Thapa said he would contribute his six months’ salary to the fund.

Darjeeling MP Raju Bista criticised the state government for not being specific on the issue. He has announced Rs 5 lakh from the MP local area development fund to mitigate the pandemic in the Darjeeling district.

Suraj Pathak, a leader of the Joint Forum, which is a conglomeration of 20-odd trade unions, said tea garden workers would be asked not to join duties from Wednesday unless respective district magistrates issued an order stating that “tea gardens are exempted from the lockdown”.

A representative of an association of tea planters said workers should be provided with cash assistance by the state government during the closure.

Additional reporting by our Jalpaiguri correspondent