KOLKATA– Scarcity of water and food are the major concerns for tea gardens workers in northern West Bengal, where work has been suspended and deaths are frequent, a report by a group of civil society organisations said here on Monday.
Deaths in the region’s tea gardens have made headlines this year, even as a minister claimed not a single death due to starvation has taken place there.
In the wake of reports of deaths, an umbrella group of organisations like G-NESEP, NAPM, MASUM, ActionAid, DISHA and also comprising academicians, human rights activists and doctors, visited the gardens on November 24 and November 25, and released the findings here on Monday.
The right to food of workers in the Bagracote (Jalpaiguri district) and Dumchipara (Alipurduar district) gardens, owned by a particular company, was being “completely violated”, according to the report which highlights the “deprivation of basic human rights and living with dignity”.
The report said “most of the tea gardens owned by this company are under complete work suspension since 10 to 12 months, but have not been officially declared as closed”.
It further revealed that “permanent workers, who are to receive Rs.1,500 per month as employees of closed tea gardens under the FAWLOI (Financial Assistance to the Workers of Locked-Out Industrial Units) are being deprived of that minimum benefit”.
In Dumchipara, after the closure of the food distribution system, the families have been brought under the Antyoday Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme but the amount of food grains reaching them is less than half of what they should be getting, the findings show.
“Prolonged starvation has caused malnutrition, frail health and abnormal losing of body weight. A considerable number of people are suffering from lack of appetite, vomiting, swelling kwashiorkor, jaundice, tuberculosis etc.,”
The report also sheds light on the provision of water.
“Since closure or work suspension, supply of water has been withdrawn in Dumchipara. In Bagracote, the workers’ families have to pay for the supply,” said Sasanka Dev, on behalf of the group.