June 29, 2014

Starvation deaths in West Bengal tea estates on the rise

Pinak Priya Bhattacharya,TNN | Jun 28, 2014, 02.00 AM IST

RAIPUR TEA ESTATE (Jalpaiguri): Starvation deaths are back to haunt the state. At least six deaths have been reported from the closed Raipur tea estate on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town over the past five days but the Mamata Banerjee government — like the Left Front regime earlier — refuses to acknowledge them.

The garden was locked out in September last year, leaving 645 workers and their families in misery. Many of them are starving, say local sources. The latest victim is Jeet Bahan Munda, 42, who died on Friday. When journalists went to the garden a few hours before his death, Munda looked like a bag of bones. He couldn't even whisper. His ramshackle hut had nothing, save a few empty utensils.

Three of the dead are women — Sarpina Tirkey, 65, Basu Oraon, 50, and Tetri Bara, 35 — and two are newborn babies. One of the infants died at North Bengal Medical College on Thursday. "Her mother was suffering from anaemia," a senior administrative official said — an indicator of malnutrition that plagues the tea garden residents.

Jalpaiguri Sadar SDO Sima Haldar visited Raipur with several officials and denied there were any hunger deaths. "There is no question of malnutrition in the garden," she said.

Jalpaiguri chief health officer Jagannath Sarkar was more guarded, saying that unless they received the "death audit report", they could not make any statement. The Left regime as well had never acknowledged reports of workers dying in closed and abandoned tea estates of the Dooars.

These workers have received heaps of promises from the administration and labour unions but virtually no help.

"Our garden started having problems in 2002 and closed down several times. But this time the problem is more acute as we haven't got our wages in three months. We want the government to find a new owner or take over the garden," said Pratima Baraik, a garden labourer.

She alleged that the foodgrains distributed to them are so rotten that even cattle refuse to eat them. "We are crying for help but received very little. The garden is running out of food and workers are going outside only in an effort to earn money for their families. Pimps are on the prowl and our women are at risk," said another worker.

Earlier the planters used to provide rice and wheat at a subsidized rate of 40 paisa per kg. After the introduction of targeted public distribution system(TPDS), workers had to buy the same at Rs 9 per kg. "But even this is not working now as we are solely dependent on the government supply of food grains," said a worker.

"There is very little drinking water, no electricity, almost no medical assistance, and no food, at all" is how a woman described their living conditions. The management committee that run closed gardens is not able to give workers more than Rs 15-20 a day. Several youths and girls have already left in search of work. The administration does provide them with welfare schemes but it isn't enough, they say. Besides, they cannot avail of the Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked-Out Industries Scheme as the garden reopened twice in 2004 and 2010.

The plantation is in a very bad shape and if water is not sprayed immediately, there will be no new leaves. 

Left has to protect people if police fail, says Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

TNN | Jun 28, 2014, 02.05 AM IST

Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came out of his self-induced disengagement on Friday and gave a call to the ranks not to take the Trinamool assault lying down.

KOLKATA: Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came out of his self-induced disengagement on Friday and gave a call to the ranks not to take the Trinamool assault lying down.

The murder of an elected CPM member in the Tehatta panchayat office was the immediate turn signal for the CPM politburo member who had otherwise confined himself within the CPM party office at Alimuddin Street.

But this time, Bhattacharjee didn't ferret the dream of bringing about a turnaround. Instead, he wanted the Left to earn the credibility of a responsible Opposition when the BJP is keen on occupying that space, particularly after the saffron surge in Bengal in the Lok Sabha polls. Bhattacharjee also warned against the spurt in RSS activities in the city and the districts.

"People are scared. They are not getting police protection. Police and administration have sided with the ruling party. They (Trinamool) have been continuing with the assault on Left activists and sympathizers with the help of police for the last three years. Thousands of Left supporters have been driven out of home and hearth. Those who remain are not being allowed to pursue their occupation. Who will protect them?" Bhattacharjee said at the concluding day of the three-day Left dharna at Rani Rashmani Avenue against terror and price rise.

Sending out the signal to the grassroots to defy the anarchy, the CPM politburo member explained why the Left have to take to the streets. "A tea stall owner is being asked to wind up his shop if he is a Leftist. A vegetable vendor is being denied access to the market for his political belief. The police and administration have sided with the ruling party. The Left have to provide them with protection when the police have failed in their duty. We are committed to the poor. We can't keep silent," he said.

Pointing to the plight of the workers at Hind Motors and Jessop that have stopped operations, and the uncertainty in jute mills where wages are falling due to dearth of orders, Bhattacharjee held that none but the Left can uphold their cause. Coming down heavily on the ruling Trinamool and BJP for the price rise, Bhattacharjee said: "Rice is selling at Rs 38 a kilo. The Modi government in Delhi has hiked railway fares. The poor feel marginalized. Who is bothered? All these do not affect the glitterati that have entered Parliament as Trinamool MPs. When we had the strength of 60 in Parliament we could prevent the UPA government from taking anti-people policies," Bhattacharjee said.

At the same time, he cautioned the gathering over the BJP's bid to occupy Opposition space in Bengal. "BJP is a rightist party. It began with railway fare hike and is against of subsidy on fuel, transport and food prices. Their leaders want the corporate to run the country and they will run the government. Worse, the RSS is spreading out to villages in the state of Tagore and Nazrul Islam," he said.