Forest timber offer to tea gardens

The government has told the tea garden owners to regularise their supply of firewood to workers and in case of shortage, to buy the extra from auctions conducted by the forest department.

The move was prompted by observations that smugglers posing as garden workers were raiding forests for timber. Tea workers frequently scout for firewood in the forests, since the supply from gardens is irregular. The firewood is part of the fringe benefit that a worker gets from the garden.

Asked how much firewood a garden worker was entitled to, an industry source said it was not measured in kilograms.

“The quantity is measured in volume. Each worker is entitled to 5ftX5ftX2.5ft (length-height-breadth) of timber a year,” said an industry source adding that shade trees were cut to supply firewood.

The government’s concern was conveyed at a meeting of garden managements convened by the forest minister Hiten Burman at Writers’ last week.

“I had come to know that the garden managements had not been providing firewood to the workers regularly for the last three years. As a result, workers are entering the forest for timber. They are being followed by the timber smugglers,” said Barman.

At the meeting, the minister also said his department would compensate any garden worker whose property was damaged by wild animals.

Representatives of the Darjeeling Tea Association, Indian Tea Association and the General Tea Association of India were present at the meeting.

Many tea gardens in the Dooars and Terai are located on the forest fringes and on elephant corridors. Tea workers and their houses are often victims of elephant and leopard attacks. The garden land does not belong to the managements and are taken on lease. According to forest norms, compensation is not given to damage caused by animals to property on government land. Now, a worker’s family is compensated only if he is killed by an animal.

Many gardens claimed that they spend more than Rs 5 lakh every year to repair damaged houses of workers. Sometimes, vast swathes of plantation are destroyed by marauding elephants.

The minister said his department was trying to work out a way to compensate the gardens. “I have asked the forest officials in north Bengal to enquire how it can be done, more importantly to find out what changes have to be made in the rules. This process will take time,” Barman said.

He said the garden managements had been told to ask workers not to cultivate paddy on unused land adjacent to forests as it attracts elephants.

“Like the forest villages in Bankura, we will also form halla parties in the gardens so that they keep a lookout for elephants at night and alert the workers,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph