In a letter submitted to the Chief Minister’s Office last week, around 95 workers of the tea estate wrote: “Aar beche theke ki hobe suni. Bagan khulbe kobe keu jaane na. Eke eke morar theke eksange mora bhalo. Amader ke adesh din morbar janya (There is no need to remain alive. We do not know when the tea estate will open. It’s better that we workers die together than seeing our colleagues die one by one).”
Located 120 kilometres from Siliguri, the tea estate, which was set up in 1911, was closed down on August 21. It was last owned by Kanoi Plantations Private Limited.
Left without work, most of the 603 tea garden workers earn their livelihood by working as daily labourers on the Reti and Dimdima riverbanks for which they earn Rs 40 a day. Some others fetch firewood from the adjoining Dalgaon and Reti forests to earn money. According to the workers, they receive no facilities of drinking water, electricity, medical assistance or food and many have died of starvation and malnutrition.
With their financial condition worsening they sold their belongings to buy food and later started feeding on roots.
During the early days of the lockout, the tea garden workers formed a committee which oversaw plucking of the tea leaves and selling them to other tea factories. But gradually, worker said, leaf production decreased owing to lack of irrigation facilities and fertiliser. “Now, barely 300 kg of leaves are generated a day, with each kg being sold at Rs 7 - Rs 8. There are nearly 2,000 people living in the garden and the money they get from selling tea leaves is not sufficient,” said a worker.
Trade unions, administrative officials and planters, so far, have played a very limited role in facilitating the reopening of the tea estate. According to CITU-backed Cha Bagan Mazdoor, the Dheklapara tea estate is reeling under immense financial woes that have forced the workers to write such a letter to the CM. “If CM fails to address this letter, we will meet her soon. These people have been left with no other option but to see their near and dear ones dying one after another due to starvation and malnutrition,” said Robin Roy, secretary of the outfit.