Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday asked chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi to bring about suitable amendments to policies to allow tea estate workers to set up homestays in gardens, a move that would provide a major fillip to low and middle-end tourism.
The chief minister gave the directive to Dwivedi while she was delivering an address at Chowrasta in Darjeeling after 44 elected members of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha took oath on Tuesday.
Mamata’s directive was greeted with loud cheers by the people attending the oath-taking ceremony. The spontaneous response affirmed the importance of Mamata’s decision.
“I request the chief secretary to amend the rules... Anit (Thapa) had asked me yesterday if we could allow people staying in tea gardens to start homestays. They can also start some business,” said Mamata.
According to the Tea Tourism and Allied Business policy, 2019, the Bengal government allows tea garden lessees to utilise 15 per cent of the estate, which should be less than 150 acres, for tourism and allied business activities.
Workers, who have been residing in tea gardens for generations have, however, no land rights. “Hence, in many instances, workers have been denied permission to start homestays in gardens by the lessee,” said a source.
This had left a bad taste not just among tea workers but also the general public in the tea growing areas of the region. Tea garden workers are a deciding factor in 15 of 54 Assembly constituencies in north Bengal.
Mamata’s directive to the chief secretary is seen as an endorsement of some rights of the workers in the place they have lived for generations.
The chief minister even suggested that the management setting up tourism projects allocate some funds under corporate social responsibility so that “at least 10 families in a garden” can set up homestays.
“This way, the burden on the government would also be less,” said Mamata.
The chief minister has also directed that the north Bengal development department be made a nodal agency and that an officer be appointed for each tea growing district to oversee the implementation of the CSR schemes.
Although many lessees have come up with tourism projects, they mostly fall in the high-end tourism bracket.
“If homestays are opened by common people, one can expect a tourism boom at the grassroots,” said an observer.
There are more than 300 tea gardens in north Bengal.