The deaths occurred at Nageshwari tea garden and Bagrakote tea garden, both of which have been closed for nine months, and the cause was attributed to illness, the officer said.
Sukra Manki Munda (65) died at Nageshwari tea garden on Monday morning. The family members said he had been sick for a while and had died of malnutrition and lack of treatment.
Another labourer, Sibu Pradhan (66) also died at Bagrakote tea garden on Monday. He too had been ill for several months and was suffering from malnutrition, his family members said.
The Joint Forum of Labour Unions of the tea gardens said both the gardens belonged to the Duncans group. All the 16 tea gardens of the group in North Bengal had been closed for the last nine months, they said. A spokesman of the Joint Forum, Zia ul Alam of CITU said there was no water and electricity in the closed gardens and the labourers had no money to buy food or medicine.
He blamed the state government of being indifferent to the plight of the workers. The district administration, however, claimed that they were supplying rice to the workers at Rs 2 per kg. Duncans has 14 estates in Dooars, Terai and Darjeeling in North Bengal, producing 14 million kg of tea. About 25,000 workers were associated with the estates. Over the past few months, as many as 13 deaths have been reported from the estates. In April, the state government had auctioned five tea gardens under the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation.
Gardens in North Bengal have been under pressure with the double whammy of subdued tea prices and rising costs.
West Bengal accounts for around 27 per cent of India’s total tea production.
For the quarter ended June 2015, Duncans reported revenues of Rs 8.41 crore and a net loss of Rs 20.57 crore.