As we sip our morning tea in comforts of our home, tea workers in this tea estate of North Bengal are struggling to survive, eating dried leaves as their meal because their only source of income, the tea estates, owned by Duncans Industries Ltd have shut down since last year without any wages, notice or compensation.
Duncans Industries Ltd, owner of the Bagrakote Tea Estate, exited the tea garden in March last year, leaving the 1,200 workmen who worked there to fend for themselves. Till date, at least 14 starvation deaths have been reported at this tea estate after its closure. “Workers haven’t been compensated for their work since last year. With no money to survive, the workers here are forced to eat sun-dried leaves” reports Harihar Nagbanshi, Video Volunteers, community correspondent from West Bengal. The workers at the colony scrounge in the undergrowth of the tea garden and the forests beyond for food.
Loss of their only source of income has created famine like conditions in these closed tea gardens, resulting in high mortality within the community. “My parents succumbed to malnutrition. I could have saved my mother but there was no money to seek any medical attention,” says Sudhi Lakra, a tea garden worker. Between 2000 and 2015, 1400 people have died in 17 closed tea gardens in North Bengal as reported by The Wire. In these estates, it was found that severe malnutrition was the main cause of death. Many deaths have occurred in other tea estates as well but they have gone unreported.
Upon Duncans’ exit, the Government of India-Tea Board has taken over the tea gardens since a year but relief for workers is yet a far away dream. Amid legal tussle between Duncans Industries and the Government of India-Tea Board combine, the livelihood of the ill-fated workers still lies in tatters. Neither Duncans nor Tea Board — which hasn’t paid a penny for the February and March salary — is willing to take the onus and foot the bill till the ongoing legal case is over.
Call the Labour Welfare Department in Kolkata on +91-3323204241 and demand that these tea estates are re-opened and the people who are ill should get a fair treatment.