April 17th, 2016
Written by: Zohaib Rauf | News, Image Source: Partha Paul, Indian Express
‘Chai pe Charcha’ is one of the favourite hobbies of Indians. With a sip of tea, anybody can talk about anything except the workers who grew the tea leaves and are now starving to death.
It is estimated that 1400 people died in 2000-10 alone due to malnutrition. Around 80 people died due to starvation in 2015 alone.
In November’2015, the Indian Express reported on the story of a woman named Dukhni, 30, who was reduced to a skeleton and barely able to move and confined to her bed, she watched her husband put their evening meal together with all that was left — a handful of rice and four potatoes when he broke down, “Dukhni is unlikely to survive. Doctors say she needs two packets of blood, but we don’t have the money.”
Ratiya Khariya lived on a diet of rice in starch water and salt for almost a year which finally ended with his death. His story is not the only one in the Bandapani Tea Garden, Jalpaiguri,
However, the administration lives in denial and vehemently disputes any report of starvation deaths.
An NGO, Right to Food and Work – West Bengal Network, sent a team to visit the tea estates to find out the truth, and what they saw was unnerving. A member of the team said, “All families we met reported a huge rise in the consumption of tea flowers, wild leaves, wild tubers and bamboo shoots. We were told that there were no snakes or rats left in the plantation as all of these had been caught and eaten by the hungry workers and their families”.
Reasons behind this horrific condition of the tea workers:
Minimum Wages: While the minimum wages for agricultural labour in much above Rs.200/- across India, some tea garden workers do not even Rs.100/- Many people, who do not directly work in the tea estates do not even earn Rs.50/-.
Provident Fund: Provident Fund is a statutory right of all workers according to which every worker deposits a share of his wage with the government and the employer also needs to contribute an even amount and the government pays interest on the sum. The maturity value of this fund is withdrawn by the worker at the time of retirement or when he is in dire need of money. But the Tea Plantation workers are deprived of this too!
Lockouts: The work in tea gardens is seasonal in nature and requires bi-annual attention. However, as per law, plantation owners need to pay wages for the entire year to enable the workers to sustain themselves. In order to earn excessive profits, some tea garden owners simply choose to “get up and leave” during the off-season and declare a lockout in a calculated manner, thereby depriving the workers of their wages.
Medical Benefits: The tea plantation area is extremely remote, disconnected from the rest of the state. Hardly any medical facility is available there. The workers are not even covered by the ESI scheme. All the employers do is pay a paltry sum to the workers in the name of medical allowance. This amount is so insignificant that it does not even suffice for travelling to the hospitals.
Casual Labour: Another way in which the workers are exploited in tea gardens is by depriving them of the status of permanent workers so the exploitation can be legal.
Closed Tea Plantations: The land for tea plantations is leased to the plantation owners by the government for 30 years but many plantations have shut operations because the owners prefer to engage in more profitable businesses and the labourers have been rendered jobless. It is the government’s job to takeover these estates and allot them to new owners, but this work is hardly done.
The Logical Indian take
Entire India was up in arms against the British when during the 1943 Bengal famine. India fought harder and gained its independence so that her children do not die of hunger once again. The situation in Tea Estates is worse than that of the famine. Innumerable people are ceaselessly dying because they are being exploited, the government does not address the issue, the rights of the workers are continuously infringed, the judiciary is already overburdened to effectively address the issue, and the people are extremely busy with Chai pe Charcha!
Mamta Banerjee hails herself as Messiah of poor, but the condition of poor and no action from her side how much hollow her claim is. We request human rights organisations and central govt. to immediately look into the matter.