Major Ration crisis for tea gardens

Tea planters in the foothills of Bengal have hinted at a major crisis in disbursement of food grain in the next few months, considering the consistent shortfall in government allotment since January this year.

“The distribution of ration in the brew belt might face a sudden jolt as managements in the Terai and Dooars are being forced to purchase rice and wheat from the open market,” said Shashank Prasad, the president of the Tea Association of India.

According to Prasad, considering the state of the industry, the situation can worsen if the gardens fail to buy foodgrain from the open market. “We want the governments to intervene,” he added.

Under the wage agreement of 1969, a tea worker is entitled to 1kg of rice and 2.26kg of wheat every week. An adult dependant of the worker is supposed to get 1kg of rice and 1.44kg of wheat while a minor 500gm of rice and 720gm of wheat.

In 2005, the FCI used to allot 5,890 quintals of rice and 35,340 quintals of wheat per month to the gardens of the Dooars and the Terai. The figures changed to 34,830 quintals and 14,930 quintals in 2006.

“In June last year, though the allotment of rice remained the same, only 7,460 quintals of wheat were allotted,” a source said. In January 2007, when the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) was launched, the allotment became 22,399 quintals against a requirement of 18,854 quintals of rice and 11,015 quintals of wheat (which makes the total 29,869 quintals) each month.

“Now each month, we have to purchase about 7,500 quintals of foodgrain from the open market, where we pay Rs 1,125 for every quintal of rice and Rs 1,200 per quintal of wheat,” a planter said. “If this continues for a year, we will be spending around Rs 10 crore for around 90,000 quintals.”

Tea estates were brought under the purview of the TPDS scheme this year wherein workers and their families were issued ration cards with managers acting as ration dealers.

“When the FCI was in charge, the shortages were sporadic, but ever since the TPDS was introduced, the shortage has become constant,” said N.K. Basu, the convener of the West Bengal branch of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations. “We want the government to do something.”

Bengal food minister Paresh Adhikary, however, said the state government has little to do with the allotment. “The Centre allots the foodgrain,” he said. “Our role is limited to routing it to the industry. We have always told the planters to write to the Union government. Nevertheless, we will take up the issue with Union food minister Sharad Pawar.”

Source: The Telegraph