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Workers keep away from hill tea estates

The state has exempted production units which require continuous process from the 21-day lockdown’s ambit
Women workers take rest after plucking of tea leaves in a garden in the Darjeeling hills on Tuesday.

Vivek Chhetri   |   Darjeeling   |   Published 25.03.20, 09:46 PM

The fear of Covid-19 was stronger than the fear of hunger in the tea gardens of north Bengal and rightly so.

GTA chief Anit Thapa and the GNLF had called for the shutdown of tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills from Wednesday. But only 20 per cent of workers abstained from duties in the hills on Wednesday morning.

GNLF leaders sounded a bit disappointed by the workers’ decision, but by afternoon, almost all labourers had stopped the work.

Between morning and afternoon, Thapa released a press note, making a “final and last appeal” to owners to close plantations.

“The lives of tea garden workers are more important than the business. The owners must take the responsibility of the tea garden workers and the GTA will also try to pitch their resources...it’s easy to call for a strike and close down but it hard when you have to take the responsibility of the peopled during the period, (sic),” Thapa’s statement read.

On Tuesday, he had announced the creation of a corpus by the GTA to pay workers during the lockdown.

The hills have over 87 estates which produce Darjeeling Tea.

B.K. Mohan, the chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association, said over the phone from Calcutta: “There was a suspension of work in the Darjeeling gardens (on Wednesday) following the appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We have, however, sought a clarification from the district magistrate whether we come under production units which require continuous process.”

The state has exempted production units which require continuous process from the 21-day lockdown’s ambit.

Asked whether wages would be paid during the suspension, Mohan said: “I think this issue is a bit too early to discuss. We do not know how long this lockdown would continue. Let us first look at the emerging issue and discuss the issue at the right time.”

In the Terai and the Dooars, tea companies came up with notices on Wednesday announcing closure of gardens from March 25 till 31 midnight. The essential services will, however, be open in the gardens, said the notice.

Clarification

Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has recommended release of Rs 50 lakh from his local area development fund to fight Covid-19 and not Rs 5 lakh as mentioned in The Telegraph on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by our Alipurduar correspondent

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