Failing to get wages for nearly a month, many tea garden workers are leaving the state in search of jobs elsewhere posing a serious threat to the state tea gardens.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced demonetisation of high value notes on November 8 and since then, tea garden workers in Alipurduar have received their wages only once. An arrangement was made between the District Magistrate and the tea garden owners to pay the wages of the workers but the arrangement lasted only for a day as the banks could not supply adequate notes. The recent notification of Reserve Bank of India has pushed them further into a corner and many of the workers are leaving the state to get jobs elsewhere.
Sefali Kujur, a tea garden worker said as the wages had not been paid for three consecutive weeks, the workers were facing great difficulty to buy food grains and essential commodities. “We have no food and how long can we survive like this?” she asked. It may be mentioned that Trinamool Congress leaders led by the state Tourism minister Goutam Deb had launched a movement to protest against the ordeal faced by tea garden workers in Dooars and Tarai. Bank authorities had assured that mobile ATM vans would be deployed to cope with the situation but nothing of that sort has happened as of yet. Majority of tea garden workers do not have a bank account and they are unable to get their wages. The exchange of old high value notes has stopped and as a result of this, many of them are starving.
Gopal Pradhan, president of the Central Committee of Tea garden Workers’ Union said demonetisation had affected the tea gardens so badly that if this continued, many workers would leave the job forcing the owners to close down the unit. “As most of the workers are illiterate and do not have bank accounts how could they use ATM cards? Those introducing demonetisation do not know anything about the functioning of tea gardens where the workers get weekly payments and that too in cash. With the money they buy food and other essential commodities. If the wage is stopped then the workers have no other option but to starve and die,” he said.