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Closed Tea Gardens in Bengal to Hit Mamata's Post Poll Arithmetic

Closed Tea Gardens in Bengal to Hit Mamata's Post Poll Arithmetic

Most children of tea workers have dropped out of schools and women and child trafficking is allegedly rampant.

West Bengal (Jalpaiguri): The Phase-II Assembly Election in West Bengal on Sunday is going to be tough for the Trinamool Congress in the midst of allegation that the Mamata Banerjee government did nothing for the welfare of starving tea workers in North Bengal.

While West Bengal Chief Minister blamed the Centre for the plight of tea workers in North Bengal, the local people held the state government responsible for not raising issue on right platform with the Centre.

In last 10 years several workers committed suicide due to poverty. Most of the tea estates are closed and some of them are at the brink of closure.

The Red Bank Tea Garden in Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri district is closed for the last 13 years, except for a brief period in 2011-12, leaving some 4,000 dependents on the garden in extreme distress.

In 2014, hopes were high when the Mamata led government acquired the estate in November. "Unfortunately, the state government failed to reopen it due to various social, local and financial issues," Debabrata Pal, Head Clerk, Red Bank Tea Estate said.

He said, "We have lost faith in the governments. The garden is shut for a long time and every day the company's assets are getting stolen. If this continues, there would come a time when nothing would remain. Not even the trees."

Red Bank is just one of the 29 Dooars gardens which have shut down mostly owing to non-viable business policies of the owners.

More than 40,000 plantation workers and another one lakh dependent have been affected by the crisis. Over 400 plantation workers and their family members have died on account of malnutrition and lack of treatment in the last year alone

Radha Nagarchi whose husband Basudeb died two months ago with virtually no medical treatment.

Basudeb used to work as a driver of the garden owner and was struggling to make ends meet for his family since the closure.

"We don't trust them anymore. They have done nothing all these years. They will forget us once the election is over. That's how the government functions. No political party whether in power or in opposition have so far set foot in these closed and abandoned tea gardens to seek votes," she said.

The Trinamool Congress candidate in Nagrakata, Sukra Munda said, "Not everything is in the hands of the state. A lot rests in the hands of the Centre. The central government is responsible for the plight of workers."

Since 2013 over 90 workers have perished owing to poverty. Most children have dropped out of schools and women and child trafficking is allegedly rampant.

first published:April 17, 2016, 10:13 IST