The Bengal government on Tuesday issued a notification to grant land rights to people residing in the tea gardens of six north Bengal districts.
This has been one of the most important demands of the tea-growing areas of this region. More than 3 lakh workers have been residing in tea gardens of north Bengal for generations — with the job of a tea plucker being passed on to the next of kin on a worker's retirement — but these workers did not have any land rights.
The state government's notification on Tuesday stated that the purpose was to “resolve the age-old problem of the landless” tea workers and other residents residing in the gardens.
The district magistrates of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur will survey the unutilised and surplus land of tea gardens. The tea gardens are let out on lease for 30-year terms from the state government.
“Homestead pattas shall be granted to the eligible families up to 5 decimals of land. These pattas shall be heritable but not transferable,” the notification states. Five decimals translate to 2,176 square feet.
The government has decided to grant land rights not just to the tea workers but also to the “retiring and/or retired landless labourers and long-term occupiers of tea garden”.
“It took us long to convince the government that land rights should also be granted to people who reside in gardens apart from workers,” said Anit Thapa, president, Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), which has consistently been raising the demand.
“This is one of the biggest achievements of the BGPM. We have consistently proved that we can achieve much through good leadership, policy and teamwork,” said Thapa.
The management of tea gardens, sources said, had been against it.
The settlement process will be conducted at the block land and land reforms office and the settlement (patta) will include the name of the women of the family.
A record of rights (parcha) and a sketch map showing the area will be given to each settlee along with the deed of settlement (patta).
The settlement would be done in a “cluster approach” with enough space to provide basic amenities like internal roads, drainage, streetlights and livelihood-extension services.
An implementation committee headed by an SDO and a supervisory committee headed by a district magistrate will have to be formed for its implementation.
The state government had initially provided homestead pattas to 1,000 families from north Bengal on February 21 early this year.
However, the latest notification has put in place a detailed procedure to implement this scheme.
As this decision is expected to favourably impact nearly 70 per cent of the hill population who have so far been living in tea gardens without land rights, it is also likely to impact the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The tea belts of north Bengal influence four Lok Sabha and 15 Bengal Assembly seats. All these Lok Sabha seats are with the BJP at the moment, as are most Assembly seats. “However, this major announcement should have a big impact on the way people vote," said an observer.