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Addendum to open tea gardens in Hills draws flak from Oppn

Addendum to open tea gardens in Hills draws flak from Oppn

Darjeeling: A recent addendum to the earlier Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India lockdown order exempting the tea industry has drawn flak from the operating tea trade unions.

The unions have expressed fears of major viral contamination if tea gardens become operational. The addendum issued on April 3, 2020 has exempted "Tea industry including plantation with maximum of 50% workers."

The addendum has a note stating that social distancing and proper hygiene practices must be ensured. "It will be the responsibility of the head of the organization/ establishment to ensure compliance of such norms. The district authorities will ensure strict enforcement," stated the note in the addendum.

"There should be clear instructions on modalities of implementation from the Chief Secretary of the State and the District Administration. Issues of deployment of 50% of workers along

with wage modalities

need to be discussed before taking any step regarding the reopening of tea estates. Gardens employ large number of workers. With 50 percent of workers also it will be impossible to maintain social distances" stated

Saman Pathak of the Joint Forum of Tea Unions.

There are 283 gardens in North Bengal spanning across the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar in North Bengal and employ the largest workforce of around 350,000 workers. "We vehemently object to this order to reopen gardens. In towns and villages if people come out in lockdown the police send them home. Then why send labourers out to work? Aren't we not humans? Aren't our lives precious? If gardens open there will be contamination. We will not allow this. We will stop vehicles from coming in or tea

being taken out if we are forced to work. Why doesn't the Prime Minister speak for the lakhs of tea garden workers. We request the workers not to go to work. Life is more important,"

stated JB Tamang of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union affiliated to the GJM.

Though the lockdown ensued on March 24, confusion gripped the tea gardens with no specific orders and the tea gardens remained open. Finally on March 26, the West Bengal Government order issued by the Chief Secretary declaring a lockdown till March 31 was invoked by the district administration to close down the gardens.

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