Writes: Gunjan Rana
One is born with inevitable consequence of death, certainly no one had gulped immortality syrup”- this were the words of a manager of one of the 14 Goenka owned Tea Estates in North Bengal, when we asked him about recent deaths of the workers in Bagracote Tea Estate (a Duncan owned Tea Estate) due to prolonged illness and lack of health services.
Over the time we hear such deaths, which is a matter of concern, which the Manager preposterously disrespected, being oblivious to the fact that how he will make an effort to run for his life, if he is chased by people having gun in their hands.
Well, the situation in the Tea Gardens is no different from this imaginary situation where I put the manager into. Everyone knows that death is a truth, but we also know that if we do not push ourselves to make an effort to prolong it, death will come sooner. So the point here is that, the workers did not died because of the inevitability of death as a natural phenomena, rather they died because of the prolonged illness they were put into, by unhealthy and unhygienic working condition, unsafe drinking water and zero nutrition food that they eat to save the already meager earning.
Gungaram Tea Estate, one of the Tea Estate owned by the Duncans Goenka Group had to say the same story. The raged workers were somewhat consoled by their newly appointed authoritative (not being judgmental) manager, who promised to open the Tea Garden, which was closed (not officially) since June. The Tea Estate was made functional too as promised; it was the sixth day of opening. The Manager further said that all the dues that the owner owed to the workers shall be paid through installments and the first such installment was already distributed. The workers were too moved by the developments. The actions were very promising to them, making them feel that may be a situation like this will not take place again.
But Duncan’s other 13 gardens are not yet opened and the death toll increased to 3. All the Duncan’s owned garden stopped paying its workers after the revision in their wages, which happened in one of the tripartite meeting this April. Duncan Goenka Group altogether has approximately 7000 hectors plantation land, 40,000 workers with over 20 crore yearly turnover.
But the company like Duncan Goenka Group (and others) is/are too infamous for slavery wage that they pay their workers and the haphazard shut downs. When asked the Manager about this, he straightly said that the Duncan Goenka Group is collapsed; if it has to stand its businesses then it has to make stand the Gardens and all the other industries it has invested on.
But the irony is, Duncan Goenka is already a huge company. And Gungaram Tea Estate is a highest yielding garden in the region. The manager showed in his office, all the certificates that hung on the wall, the Garden had got over time, for really high yield. He himself was amazed, in one such year the production per hector was some 28 quintals.
How can such a company which owns 15 more Tea estates like Gungaram get into the crisis? It is often alleged that it is because the owners siphon offs the revenues generated from Tea Gardens to other industries, Duncans too had invested in some cement industry, as it went to loss, the worker paid for it. Well, the owner does that because he is an owner! It has got this power and police and administration goes hand in gloves.
A woman worker was expressing how she felt as a policeman came to them with his laathi and helmet when they were agitating, blocking the highway because they were not being paid for couple of weeks. She felt that the policeman will not shower the sticks on them, as she was more than hundred percent sure that they were correct and the management was wrong.
But the policeman did shower his laathi on them that too, she said was so brutal.
Many ration are due said the workers whom we met. Manager on this said that, they asked the Government to distribute some relief, and the government has been distributing 1kg of rice to each ration card holder for Rs 4 per kg.
But aren’t the below poverty level worker already liable for the ration under PDS, without the management’s requisition to the Government?
Worker’s social security is put at risk every passing hour by the management, the hospital does not functions and the only assistance available to the worker outside the Garden’s ill functioning hospital is the vehicle which carries the patients to the nearby North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. No refunding of the expenditure is reimbursed to the worker, which according to law is not acceptable.
But, what is acceptable to the law or general conscience and what is not does not works in the present day slave owing system of Tea garden, be it a Goodrick owned or Duncan’s owned Tea Garden.
The only thing that plays is the disrespectful supremacist and hierarchical profit motive ethics of the owners. The so called profit mongering industrialist.
Source - Darjeeling and Dooars Tea Workers Relief Organization - DAWN
[File pic of a tea worker who starved to death in 2013]