Plans to set up a resort at Jungpana tea garden in Kurseong has prised open the land rights issues for tea garden workers in the hills.
Anit Thapa, president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), recently said that a major hotel chain was planning to come up with a resort at the tea garden.
In 2019, the Bengal cabinet decided to allow tea garden lessees to use 15 percent of unused tea garden land for tourism .
Ajoy Edwards, president of the Hamro Party, which recently won the Darjeeling civic election, told tea garden workers at Phoobshering tea garden in Darjeeling on Sunday that this development was ironic. “Our people have lived in tea gardens for generations and yet do not have land rights. It is ironic that permissions to build five- star hotels in tea garden areas are being granted,” said Edwards.
In the past, the demand to grant land rights to tea garden and cinchona plantation workers had been raised by various parties in vain.
Edwards also rued the fact that tea garden plantations were not allowing workers to build homestays in tea gardens. “Along with land rights, our unemployed youths must get permission to set up homestays in tea gardens,” said Edwards.
“Ever since the new (tourism) policy came into place not a single tea garden in the hills is granting no-objection certificate to people living in the tea gardens to start homestays,” said Suraj Subba, president of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union (DTDPLU), which is affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Many believe this probably explains while Kalimpong district is leading in homestays. “Kalimpong is leading largely because there are hardly any tea gardens in the district. More than 90 per cent of the tea gardens are in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik,” said a tourism stakeholder.
Kalimpong has 337 registered homestays, the highest in Bengal, Darjeeling district only has 63 homestays and is behind South 24-Parganas with 78 registered homestays.
The land rights issue also gathered steam afresh following allegations in social media that the management of Jungpana tea garden in Kurseong was planning to shift worker homes for the resort. The management, however, denied the allegations.
BGPM president Thapa also said his party would not allow shifting of tea garden workers’ houses. He stressed that the hills must look into ways of generating jobs to stop migration.
“To promote tourism in Kurseong, good hotels need to be set up,” said Thapa who cited examples of other resorts in tea gardens of Kurseong to underscore that workers would not be affected by the Jungpana project.