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Assam: One Suspended After Girl Gravely Injured in Dibrugarh Tea Factory Accident

The Assam labour welfare department, on Wednesday, suspended the senior inspector of the factory, Dinesh Chandra Roy, for alleged negligence in duty.

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New Delhi: The Assam labour welfare department, on Wednesday, suspended Dinesh Chandra Roy, senior inspector at Dibrugarh’s Lepetkata Tea Estate factory, for alleged negligence in duty.

The suspension followed widespread uproar following the gruesome accident.

On July 19, tea worker Maina Nayak, 24, who works at a tea factory at Dibrugarh’s Lepetkata Tea Estate, owned by Luxmi Tea Company Private Ltd., was seriously injured while working.  At 8.30 a.m, she was sweeping residual leaves from the floor when her hair got caught in a CTC machine, which crushes, tears and curls tea leaves. The machine ripped the hair and skin from Maina’s scalp, as per reports.

Maina was rushed to Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) and later was shifted to Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and is a present in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) there.

According to reports in the regional dailies, Maina’s brother, Tulsi, said the manager of the tea estate provided the family with money for her treatment and also paid for the ambulance and other expenses. Therefore, no FIR has been filed.

However, the accident sparked tension among workers of the tea factory. Various tea organisations have demanded a probe into the matter and have also alleged negligence on the part of garden management.

The incident also led to a political outcry and the women’s wing of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) held a press conference in Dibrugarh over the same.  Anamika Das, the state convener of Mahila Shakti, (the women's wing of AAP), demanded that the government take necessary steps to find out the culprits and arrest them.

She said: “Due to lapse on the part of Leptakatta tea estate management the incident happened. Now, the girl has been battling her life. The management has violated the safety norms. There is a big question mark about how a woman gets entry at CTC for work. The garden management had violated all the rules and because of that, the accident happened. We demand the government to take up the matter seriously and a proper investigation should be done to bring out the truth.”

The Assam labour welfare department, on Wednesday, suspended the senior inspector of the factory – Dinesh Chandra Roy for alleged negligence in duty. A notification issued by the Assam principal secretary for the labour welfare department alleged that the factory inspector allegedly neglected his duty of supervision and enforcement of rules under 7(a), 2 (c) and 22(2) of the Factories Act, 1948 in the Tea Garden areas under his jurisdiction, according to a report in NENow. 

Safety of Workers- A Larger Issue

Like many other tea factory workers in India, Maina was not provided with safety gear, like a helmet, which might have mitigated her injuries. And, like many workers before her, she received help from her employers so her family chose not to file a police complaint, some of the the garden workers were quoted in reports.

Despite the Factories Act of 1948 mandating that workers be adequately equipped with gear and also wear “tight-fitting clothes” to prevent clothing from being caught in machinery, employers never provide workers with safety gear, despite the risk of severe injury.

The Act also clearly states that only “trained workers” should operate machines with safety gears in place, while women and young persons are barred from cleaning, lubricating or adjusting machinery when the machinery is in motion. However, things are quite different on the ground.

According to a report in Newsaundry, this task – of sweeping the leaves to reuse them – is a “common practice” in factories, according to Ajoy Nayak, who worked at a tea factory in Bokahola Tea Estate in Jorhat.

“Many workers get injured in the process,” he said. “There are many incidents where workers’ hands get fractured, or someone loses their fingers, or even dies. But still, no safety measures have been taken so far.”

Ajoy also recalled a similar accident to Maina’s, wherein a 27-year-old Rima Manki died after the accident. According to Ajoy, who worked at the same factory at the time, she had been sweeping residue from a CTC machine when her sari got caught. Her head was dragged into the machine and she died immediately.

Following Rima Manki’s death, workers of the tea factory had demanded that the estate’s administration provide them with all safety gear and appropriate equipment. Despite the administration’s repeated promises of providing the workers with the relevant equipment and safety gear, it never happened.

Instead, he told NL, the management opened a fixed deposit account of Rs 2 lakh in the name of Rima’s seven-year-old daughter, and also took over the child’s education expenses. “Was that enough?” Ajoy asked. “What about workers who still work in these factories without any safety equipment?”

In the same report, an official from the Tea Board of India admitted that “many factories in Assam” do not follow the norms laid down in the Factories Act.

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