The district administration has disbursed three months of financial assistance, along with an ex gratia, to the jobless workers of two tea estates lying closed for years now, ahead of Durga Puja.
On Friday, the administration transferred the money to the bank accounts of 345 workers of Dheklapara tea estate, which has been closed since 2002, and 1,204 workers of Lankapara, another tea garden shut for the past 11 years.
According to administrative sources, each worker receives Rs 1,500 per month under the FAWLOI (Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries) scheme.
“The workers were paid three months’ assistance, along with an ex gratia of Rs 1,500 and a cash relief of Rs 240. Altogether, each of them got Rs 6,240 which they can spend during the festivities,” said an official.
Like other parts of Bengal, Puja festivities have also begun in the tea belt as the bonus has been disbursed in most of the gardens. However, in the closed Dheklapara and Lankapara tea estates, there had been a mood of despair among residents who had not received any bonus.
“But after Friday’s payment, most of us are relieved as we have some money to spend and join the celebrations. The assistance has come as a bonus for us before Durga Puja,” said Swapan Samjhar, a worker of Dheklapara.
Though the garden is closed, each family of the tea estate has made contributions to organise a Durga Puja in the garden.
“It is an old practice and we want the puja to continue. Even though we are in crisis, we have managed to organise the puja on a small scale,” said a worker. Senior trade union leaders when told about the Dheklapara and Lankapara — these are the only two closed tea estates in Alipurduar — said they are trying to find prospective investors for the gardens.
“We desperately want the gardens to reopen. The state government has facilitated the reopening of a number of tea estates. We are putting all efforts to resolve the crisis which workers of these two gardens have been facing for years,” said Nakul Sonar, chairman of Trinamul Cha Bagan Sramik Union.