The land survey in the tea gardens of the Darjeeling hills has finally started after months of controversy and opposition.
Rajesh Chowhan, the deputy chairman of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Sabha, confirmed the development.
“The survey started in two hill gardens — Dooteriah and Jungpana — yesterday (Thursday),” said Chowhan.
People who have been living in tea gardens for generations in the hills don’t have rights to the land they reside on.
On August 1, the state government issued a notification, saying pattas for five-decimal homestead plots would be distributed to not only workers but also other residents of tea gardens in north Bengal.
However, the decision faced massive protests in the hills. The Opposition parties in the hills opposed the move, saying tea garden workers have more than five decimals of land under their possession and pattas should be granted for the entire plots.
GTA chief executive Anit Thapa, who is also the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), was instrumental in getting the state government to agree to the disbursal of pattas. But he made a U-turn after initially supporting the five-decimal plot scheme.
Government surveyors were not allowed to conduct the surveys in many Darjeeling gardens. Subsequently, the plan for the survey was called off in the hills on September 12.
However, on November 2, the government again issued a notice to “resume” the survey in tea gardens in the GTA area “as in where is basis” without reference to any limitations on the area held.
Sunil Rai, a representative of the Joint Forum, an umbrella organisation of around 20 trade unions of tea garden workers, had also opposed the survey.
However, after the November 2 notice was issued, Rai clarified that the Forum would only allow the survey of land and no decision had been taken on the type of land document that was best suited for the hills.
“Since the survey is important to identify the amount of land that the workers possess, we have decided not to oppose the survey,” Rai said.
Some Opposition leaders have, however, maintained that the November 2 notification does not promise to provide to the workers the entire land that is under their possession.
“The notification is only about the survey. We will allow the survey now but we have not agreed on the kind of documents that are best for the workers,” said an Opposition leader.
The hills have 87 tea gardens where nearly 70 per cent of the population resides.
The GTA has also decided to form committees at district, block and local levels to oversee the survey.
“The district-level committee will act like a supervisory body and will consist of representatives of the GTA, the district magistrate’s office and trade unions,” said Chowhan.
The block-level committee will take up the role of a “program implementation committee” and will consist of block officials and representatives of the unions.
“A local committee at the garden level will also be formed,” said Chowhan.
The start of the survey is expected to come as a major relief for GTA chief Thapa.