Acquisition of closed tea gardens

A standing committee on commerce and industry of the Bengal Assembly has recommended the acquisition of closed gardens of the Dooars under Section 16 (D) and 16 (E) of the Tea Amendment Act, 1953.

A report placed by the panel — standing committees have representatives from all parties — in the House today advises the state government to extend all possible support to the Government of India in the takeover process.

Members of the committee will meet Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim with their recommendation first, after which they plan to leave for Delhi to discuss the issue with the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, Jairam Ramesh.

“We will first meet the Speaker for his consent. As soon as we receive the green signal, we will leave for Delhi. We will also visit the tea gardens for on-the-spot inquiries,” said Congress MLA and chairman of the committee Sudip Bandopadhyay.

He added: “Interaction between the state and the Centre is necessary. They must interact on issues related to workers of closed tea gardens.”

According to the committee’s report, 18,000 tea garden workers of 13 closed tea gardens have been rendered jobless. It also mentions a study conducted by the Jalpaiguri health administration, which said over 550 workers have died in the last 15 months in the closed gardens.

The recommendations follow close on the heels of the Tea Board of India’s ultimatum to owners of closed gardens, who have been issued the open-or-perish diktat. They can either open the gardens and avail of the “package that includes waivers and sharing of interests designed to ease their liabilities or face legislative measures”, Ramesh had said almost two weeks ago.

At the same time, the junior commerce minister had appealed to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to rein in “local-level leaders of a Left trade union to end the crisis in the tea industry”.

Today’s report also alleged misappropriation of funds sanctioned by the state for the gardens.

“The state government had sanctioned Rs 33 crore in the last financial year for the starving workers. But we found out that the funds have not reached the workers. For this, we have recommended proper monitoring, supervision and vigilance on the part of the state government so that such misappropriation can be avoided,” said Bandopadhyay.

Source: The Telegraph