Workers of shut tea gardens in the Dooars have been promised 50 per cent increase in the monthly financial assistance in this year’s budget.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, in his budget speech, said money given to the workers of the closed estates under the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries scheme would be increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500. The move would benefit 34,527 workers of the industry. He said of the 16 closed gardens in the region, eight were opened through joint initiatives by the state and the Centre. To expedite the reopening of the remaining ones, the state has granted tax and duty relief to both new and existing buyers.

The minister has also announced waiver for education and rural employment cess — charged seven paisa and five paisa respectively on every kilo of tealeaves — in the next financial year (see chart) in the tea estates of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur districts.

Prabhat Mukherjee, the general secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers, while appreciating the decision to increase the monthly assistance, said it was unfortunate that the finance minister evaded two primary issues. “We had asked for continuation of payment of financial assistance to those who have crossed 58 years during the period of closure as the assistance is not paid when they retire. Secondly, he hardly touched on the proposal to provide land rights to the the tea workers,” he said.

The general secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha-run West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha, Samir Roy, however, apprehended that the waiver and relief might encourage closure of more estates. “A section of unscrupulous tea planters may take the opportunity and close down estates only to get the benefits of reopening,” he said.

Planters have hailed Dasgupta’s announcement. “It is good to hear that the cess has been waived for another year. This will surely help the tea industry to grow,” said Mohini Das, secretary, Terai Indian Planters’ Association.

But small growers, who account for about 30 per cent of north Bengal’s tea production, were not happy. “We had asked for abolition of the cess in our sector and waited to hear from the government,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the chairman of the United Forum of Small Tea Growers’ Associations. “It is disappointing that nothing as such has been spelt out by the minister today.”

From The Telegraph