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‘Tea Garden Land Won't be Allowed to Use for Non-Tea Purposes’- Joint Forum of Tea Workers

The joint forum recently met in Siliguri and decided to forge an intense movement regarding this issue, also held a press conference.
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata:  “Not a single iota of land belonging to tea gardens of the state will be allowed to be used for non-tea purposes. This land belongs to the residents of the tea garden areas of the state,” Ziaul Alam, convenor of the Joint forum of tea workers, told NewsClick.

It can be recalled that the state government started to use bulldozers to gain control of lands in the tea garden areas such as college valley, Balason, Malbazar, and Rangamati, but had to return following protests of workers belonging to the joint forum. The Joint Forum is the umbrella organisation of all tea garden workers' unions in the hills and Dooars area of the state. The joint forum also met recently in Siliguri and has decided to forge an intense movement regarding this issue and also held a press conference.

Ziaul Alam in the press conference further added that the state government's exchequer is now empty. “To fulfil its coffer the state government is busy offloading the prime tea garden lands to private parties which we won't allow happening. It is an outright loot of the natural resources of north Bengal which the common people of north Bengal won't let happen, “ he said. He also said that land belonging to Darjeeling hill council to tea estate lands in Bidhan nagar and Kumargram, no land will be allowed to be divested from the state government's coffer. He also rued the fact that even after 75 years of independence the tea garden workers are deprived of the land rights of places where they have stayed for centuries. Hence, the joint forum won't’ let the worker's colonies and the societies that have grown along the tea garden estates to be evicted from these lands. Throughout the country, an attempt is being made to take over the lands belonging to tea estates and to utilise them for other purposes.

It can be recalled that the West Bengal government has taken a decision to lease  15% of the land of the tea gardens to the tourism sector and realty makers. Highlighting this, Ziaul Alam said that even rivers of the tea garden areas are being sold off and the land use law of the government has been changed which is affecting the environment of these places.

Talking to NewsClick,  Saman Pathak of Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union said that the tea garden industry is now standing before a dangerous bend. To ward off the danger of corporate takeover of the tea garden lands and demand minimum wages for tea garden workers, the joint forum has also decided to hold several conventions in Darjeeling, Bagdogra and Chalsa area. At the conventions, the plantation workers and other stakeholders of the plantations will be present.

Ziaul Alam while talking to NewsClick also alleged that the tea industry is facing a crisis due to deliberate actions of the central government and the state government. “Last year the tea board's budget was reduced to half.  It has been stated that about Rs 1,000 crore will be spent for the betterment of the lives of people in the tea garden area. Where is this money?” he asked.

He also demanded that Darjeeling tea be auctioned in Darjeeling only and that special incentives should be given for the export of Darjeeling tea. He also spoke against the Cha Sundori project of the state government and demanded that the state government in the interest of the tea workers should immediately declare minimum wages.

He rued the fact that at one time in Darjeeling over 11 million kg was produced. Due to a lack of workers now more than 50% of workers have switched professions. Now even seven million kg of tea is not produced. It is due to the fact that minimum wage is still not active in the tea garden areas of the state. At a rate of Rs 232  daily which becomes Rs 7,000 monthly, the workers are finding it difficult to maintain their livelihood and cannot maintain the cost of children’s education, medical costs and so on.

He added that through forging strong movements the plantation workers of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala now get a  proper minimum wage. However, the state governments of West Bengal Tripura and Assam have faltered when it comes to providing minimum wage to workers of tea gardens in these states.

In 2014, the West Bengal government assured the tea workers of getting minimum wage. But now in 2023  also that assurance still needs to be fulfilled. He also informed that during the corona pandemic, the Gorkhaland Territorial administration had made a fund of Rs 2 crore towards the benevolence of the tea garden workers. “Now the corpus of that fund should not be misused,” he warned.

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