In the wake of reported death of tea garden workers, a group of ministers (GoM) formed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to allocate a Rs 100 crore Tea Garden Employees’ Welfare Fund (formed in early 2015) as corpus for the benefit of the ailing tea garden workers.
The GoM headed by Finance and Industries Minister Amit Mitra had an hour-long meeting with the officials of education, food, health, PHE and power departments on Friday to discuss the strategy and modalities.
The other members of GoM also include power minister Manish Gupta, rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee, education minister Partha Chatterjee, north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, labour minister Moloy Ghatak and agriculture minister Purnendu Bose.
It was decided that a task force will be formed under the district magistrates of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar to oversee the implementation of the relief measures on a day-to-day basis. The state government has set a deadline of seven days to supply power directly to the workers houses in all the 234 Dooars gardens. Besides free power, the state is organising a free kitchen in over 30 stressed gardens in Dooars.
Meanwhile, West Bengal ministers and officials met on Sunday to find out ways to help workers of closed tea gardens. “The meeting was held primarily to support the closed tea garden workers. This was not about the Duncan tea estate closure, though during the discussion the matter was raised,” state Agriculture Minister Purnendu Basu told reporters after the meeting at the state secretariat.
He said that agriculture, labour, food, social welfare and power department ministers or senior officials were present in the meeting along with state finance minister to channelise resources to provide critical support to the closed tea garden workers like resumption of drinking water and ration and power for the workers.
The minister said that Duncan’s workers will also be entitled for the government subsidy of Rs 1,500 per month to the closed industrial workers.
Support will be critical as October-December is the leanest season for the tea industry without any production.
Basu said there are some 30 stressed or closed tea gardens in the state and the government was already trying to formulate a policy for stressed tea gardens in consultation with other state holders and agencies.
However, he said takeover of tea estates which are in BIFR will be a complex affair unless the management supports and takes an exit route.
Chief Minister had warned tea estate owners to hand over the business to government if they were unable to run it properly.
Duncan Group of Industries had closed the Bagrakote Tea Garden in Jalpaiguri Estate.
The state government in the past had taken over five tea gardens and auctioned them to new managements.