July 26, 2018
Dola Sen speaks on the plight of tea garden workers in Bengal
West Bengal Government has fully exempt tea gardens from agricultural income tax for the years 2018-19 and 2019-2020. There are 2.72 lakh workers in Bengal’s tea gardens and 8 lakh dependants living in tea gardens. The Bengal Government is committed to ensuring the welfare of tea garden workers and has allocated more than 1000 crore since 2011 for this. The West Bengal Government gives 35 kg rice at Rs 2 per kg, provides electricity and water supply to tea gardens, and raised their wages.
In the midst of politically motivated trade unions strikes, tea garden owners have gone to court to declare their tea garden as ‘abandoned’. As a result, workers are suffering. The West Bengal Government is proactively taking action against organisations who are not paying Provident Fund and gratuity. The lease of abandoned tea gardens which had been shut down are being cancelled and auctioned.
On the other hand, the Centre has failed to fulfil its promise of taking over 7 tea gardens. The promise was made by a Union Minister during 2016 Assembly election campaign. Tea estates in other parts of the country such as Assam need urgent attention of the Union Government. Other states and Centre must take inspiration from the Bengal model to uplift the conditions of tea farmers. Many tea workers still work at low wages and poor working conditions. The Centre must work towards ensuring better working conditions for tea workers to promote the industry.