Labourer ‘starves’ to death - Garden in need of succour

Jaigaon, March 26: A 45-year-old man died apparently from malnutrition in Radharani Tea Estate, where more than 400 workers have been living without two square meals a day and medicine ever since the management abandoned the garden two months ago.

“After Subhlal Oraon, a worker of the estate located in Alipurduar’s Kalchini block, starved to death, his 10-year-old son Deepraj is an orphan now,” said Ashok Minj, the convener of the operating and maintenance committee of the garden. His mother, too, had died without food three months back, he added.

“The management had left the estate on January 15 and since then, there have been no wage payments, pushing 405 labourers into the brink of penury. There are many workers and their family members who are suffering from illness with no money to visit doctors,” said Minj.

“Subhlal had been ailing for 20 days and there was no one to look after him. There are many others, who are similarly suffering from either fever or water-borne diseases,” said the convener.

After the management had abandoned the garden, more than 100 people, including schoolchildren, left the estate to look for jobs in other states or Bhutan.

“The labourers were given work under the central government’s employment guarantee programme for seven days in January, but no payment has been made as yet,” said Ashoke Chhetri, the unit secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers in the garden. He added that the management had defaulted on wages, ration, provident fund and gratuity, which would together come around to Rs 88 lakh.

According to him, with the general elections round the corner, no one is interested in the plight of the workers.

The general secretary of the union, Pravat Mukherjee, said although a meeting had been convened at the office of the assistant labour commissioner in Alipurduar, the management failed to show up.

Mattheus Lepcha, the joint block development officer of Kalchini, said he was yet to hear about the worker’s death. “However, I will ask the block medical officer to conduct health check-ups in the estate.”