Darjeeling: Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced the formation of an expert committee to look into different issues and problems pertaining to the tea industry. The committee will be handing over its recommendations and a report within three months. She also stated that the Land department will be soon preparing a law for distributing land rights to tea garden workers.
The Chief Minister, while on a tour of North Bengal districts, held a meeting with different operating tea unions of the gardens at Uttar Kanya, the mini secretariat in the Jalpaiguri district on Thursday.
Later, addressing a Press conference, she stated: "There are problems ailing the tea industry but we will have to find a permanent solution to the problems. We have constituted an expert committee with the Chief Secretary at the helm. The committee will submit a report within three months. The Land Reforms department will formulate a law for distributing pattas (land right documents) to tea garden workers."
She stated that there is exploitation in the tea gardens. "Some gardens declare lockouts as per their convenience. We will cancel lease of such tea gardens and will initiate criminal cases against the management not paying PF and gratuity of the workers," retorted the Chief Minister.
Reacting to an ongoing agitation by the Joint Forum of Tea, a conglomeration of 26 tea unions demanding minimum wages for tea workers, Banerjee stated: "They only know how to call bandhs. Our government has been sincerely working for the workers. We have spent more than Rs 1,000 crore for the tea workers since 2011."
Adding to this, Malay Ghatak, minister in charge of the Labour department, stated: "During the Left Front regime, daily wages were hiked by Rs 1 and Rs 2. We incremented daily wages by Rs 37.50. At present, the daily wage cash component is Rs 159."
The Chief Minister stated that the government is negotiating with the management for a minimum daily wage of Rs 176. Another round of talks of the minimum wage committee will be held on Friday at Uttar Kanya to decide on the minimum wage issue, stated the Chief Minister.
There are 2,72,000 workers in the tea gardens of West Bengal and another 8 lakh non-workers who live in the tea gardens.
"We are extending different social security programmes in the tea gardens. For the nonworkers we have decided to impart skill development training. Tea tourism will be promoted as an alternative" said the Chief Minister.
She added that relief is being provided to the workers in closed tea gardens, including free electricity and free drinking water, along with 35 kg of rice at Rs 2 per kg.