Amid the hue and cry by opposition over the plight of workers in closed tea gardens and reports of starvation deaths in north Bengal, West Bengal government has sought a financial package for them from the Centre and announced some sops for the affected.
“The chief minister has written to the Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday to address the problems of the closed tea gardens in the state,” CMO sources told PTI.
She has urged the Centre for a special package which would benefit around 3000 tea workers, he added.
Banerjee herself told reporters in Siliguri on her way to Darjeeling “I have written to the Centre on how to resume the functioning of the closed tea gardens.”
She said labourers of the five closed tea gardens in north Bengal would get Rs 1500 per month cash subsistence from the state government.
“The panchayat department has sanctioned Rs two crore so that tea garden workers can be employed in the 100 days work scheme. We have also sanctioned pension for 300 old age workers,” Banerjee said.
Meanwhile, the State Food Minister Jyotipriya Mullick has denied any starvation death in the tea gardens during the Trinamool Congress regime.
“There has not be any starvation deaths in tea gardens during the past three and half years,” he told the news agency in Kolkata.
“The state government is distributing cooked food to the jobless workers of the closed tea gardens and has strengthened the ICDS centres to provide nutrition to their children. The workers have also been receiving rice at Rs 2 per kg under the instructions of the chief minister,” he said.
Mullick said, “The state government has stood behind the workers in the closed tea gardens. A delegation of ministers – including the state Food Minister, MoS Health, North Bengal Development Minister and Labour Minister, has already visited the gardens and cleared several hurdles on spot.”
Under the Chief Minister’s instructions government officials and engineers have visited the tea gardens to assess the condition of the labourers’ quarters and repair them through government schemes like Indira Awas Yojana, he added.
BJP Lok Sabha member S S Ahluwalia who represents Darjeeling raised the issue in Lok Sabha and accused the Trinamool Congress government in the state of inaction over the death of several tea garden workers and their kin in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri due to hunger and asked the government to send a central team to the affected areas.
He said a number of tea gardens in Dooars, Surendernagar and Dharanipur areas were lying closed for several months, leaving over 2,200 tea garden workers jobless and their families in abject penury.
Sources said Ashish Khetan will be the vice-chairman of the commission.