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No Water for Bengal Tea Garden Despite Repeated Petitions

Some of the richest tea gardens in the country cannot even assure clean drinking water to their employees, the local government is doing nothing either.

“We’ve been hearing these assurances for two years now,” says Prakash Kujur. Kujur lives in the Rajabhat Tea Garden of West Bengal’s Alipurduar. Every morning at 4am, he lines up at the water tank in the tea garden to get the day’s water supply. The only other source of water in the village are handpumps, two of which do not work and one of which spurts red, contaminated water.

Kujur, along with the residents of his village, has submitted three written applications in the last two years to Lilamati Gowala, the head of the Gram Panchayat (village council), to ensure piped water supply in the area. But her assurances have not materialised to concrete changes on ground.

Community Correspondent Harihar Nagbansi started making a video on the issue in July 2017. “There is a high level of iron-contamination and it is not only this village but several villages in the area which are facing this problem”, says Harihar who recently made another video on the issue from the hamlet of Gangutia Khas,  four kilometres away from Rajabhat Tea Garden. In course of making both these videos, Harihar met Gowala and she acknowledged the applications, assuring that she will personally see that the issue is solved at the earliest.

However, the families living in Rajabhat are not happy with the assurances. “We have been facing this problem for 4-5 years now,” says Pamchini Kujur, a resident. Along with the 350 odd households, the local anganwadi and primary school are facing a severe crisis as well. Skin infections and water-borne diseases like jaundice have also become common. “The area ranks low on development parameters overall”, says Harihar, explaining that apart from water facilities, healthcare and education are also in poor shape.

In their applications to the Village Council Head, the residents have asked for water supply under the government’s Swajaldhara Scheme of 2002. Under the project, a shift from a supply-driven approach to a demand-driven approach was envisioned so that local communities can participate in the management of their own water resources. The scheme has not reached Rajabhat despite the residents’ repeated efforts. The West Bengal government had also planned over 600 projects to address the state’s water crisis. In Alipurduar, the plan is to harness water from waterfalls in the area and supply it to homes through pipelines. Rajabhat has not benefited from this plan either.

When asked whether the tea garden management is doing something about the crisis, Harihar says that it does not take initiative, echoing what Sujit Sarkar, a resident of the tea garden, says. The management does not lend its support to the residents’ applications to the Village Council either. “After 1995, the provision of basic amenities in tea gardens has become the Panchayat’s responsibility. The management, therefore, is not involved,” adds Harihar.

It is appalling that a tea garden owned by a big corporation that banks on the labour of 350 families cannot even ensure a basic facility like clean water. The laxity of the Panchayat in addressing the issue is equally disheartening.

To ensure that the residents’ demands for piped water are met at the soonest, call Lilamati Gowala, the Panchayat Head of the Garopara Panchayat at +91-8967117415 and urge her to take immediate action on the residents’ long-standing demand.

Article by Alankrita Anand

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