Showing posts with label Darjeeling tea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darjeeling tea. Show all posts

Darjeeling MP Raju Bista elected as a member of the Tea Board

5:16 PM
Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has been elected as one of the members of the Tea Board of India. When he was asked by a journalist about his further course of action after being elected, he responded as follows:

"As you are aware the Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars along with neigbouring Assam produce some of the finest tea in the world, yet this industry is gradually dying.

Numerous gardens in our region have shut down, the tea garden workers and their families are suffering, and at the same time our tea industry is facing increasing competition internationally.

 My role will be to bring together all the stakeholders – workers, government, and industry representatives to develop a possible road map for the rights of the workers to be protected, rejuvenation of the tea industry in India, and create a healthy win-win situation for everyone.

I will be pushing for a comprehensive review of the Plantation Labours Act 1951, and implementation of the Minimum Wages Act. I am sure other members also share similar sentiments, so we will all work together to make this happen."

MINIMUM WAGES –Tea Garden Workers and Vultures

8:51 PM
Writes: Chandan Pariyar

It’s time for the Monsoon flush, fighting with the wind and the rain women are seen bent at their waist behind the tea bush, plucking the tea leaves and carefully tucking it inside the cane basket hung on their head.

Their sunburnt faces and the frostbitten hands may tell you hundreds of stories of betrayal and vaguely inferior complexities that keeps swaying in the forest and the tea gardens. Each one of them though in the group, instinctively try to listen to the voice echoing in the valley, but the good news of their wage hike seems to be lost within the mountains. At the end of the day, a disappointed murmur overwhelms them and the group members’ console each other and instinctively protect themselves from the shock and pain, of expectations not being met once again.
MINIMUM WAGES –Tea Garden Workers and Vultures

When the world get their pot full of Darjeeling tea in the morning, they praise the aroma and the exquisite flavour that lightens up their day, but don’t even give a thought to the diligent workers who work in the Sun and the rain alike making white, black, green or oolong tea, bumping in the hump of the garden, steadily collecting each new bud, and moving from one stunted shrub to the other. While many flock to the factories, managing the quality and protecting for future use, but the chemistry between the tea workers and the tea seems unmatched when Makaibari tea makes 1,10,000 rupees per kg in the foreign market, the workers receive in return of their gratitude a sum of rupees 132 per day.

Needless to say that the gardens thirst for their blood and the workers have no choice but to sacrifice their lives in the tea bushes.

No one is free in a TEA-Estate, how can one be free ????

When you can’t move out of the plantation, since four or five  generation your family is engaged in the gardens but still you don’t have any rights over your own land, you can’t get anything from the forest, the rivers are dammed, the quarries closed, how can one survive with such meagre income, when  there's nothing to supplement your income; and if you don’t work in the estates, you become homeless.

Where would they go??

Their son's shoulder is laden less with the responsibility of a family and more with rifles and the responsibility of protecting the nation, and back home there is serious worry about Displacement.

So the workers who produce the 'Champagne of teas ', had to be grown to imitate the three wise monkeys - speak not, see not, and hear not until the day, God turned his attention to the tea.

But Darjeeling has uncrowned kings here and there, who make unwanted noise to wake up people from those tea gardens – promising the heavens and their rightful wages and facilities. Their fates seem so uncertain, that the tea garden workers are forgotten in barely a week. The people have no remorse, but each one of those celebrity lions inevitably brought their bill and took their money, from the garden owners.

So each time when the sky promises a thunderstorm, one of them enters the garden, but every time with a different frequency, the challenge is to bring all of them in the same frequency. Sometimes Siliguri, Kolkata, Darjeeling, Babus hold meetings and send back a hike as less as Rs 4 and attach a letter for the loss of 104-day strike in the gardens that are still not managed.

The innocent workers look up to the uncrowned king, the king has changed, so has his gestures. With hands in the pocket, the local garden commander looks up at the vultures soaring high around the garden.

He thinks to himself, maybe there is still a little more the workers have to sacrifice to get the MINIMUM WAGE.

Via: The Darjeeling Chronicle

GlenburnTea Worker has to pay 188 days of work to stay in their Resort

8:58 AM
IS IT FAIR: Glenburn Tea Garden Workers Will Have to Work 188 Days to Afford One Night Stay in Their Resort

Various terms are used to make the tourism-based out of tea gardens sound romantic - 'Heritage Tea Tourism" though is the most popular. Not many bother to ask whose heritage?

These days the companies that own tea gardens are also running exorbitantly priced tourism operations. Without any of the benefits trickling down to the actual tea garden workers. They have no share in profit earnings from the tea gardens or the tourism that is run in their backyard.

The subversion of tea gardens, into a tourism hub has been very subtle and on the very sly. There is no provision under the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act, 1953, for such subversions of tea garden lands. The act specifically specifies that "the land can only be leased out for tea cultivation. The lessee or the company, without reducing the plantation area, may use the land for horticulture and growing medicinal plants on an area not more than 3 percent of the total grant area of the garden."

Yet numerous tea companies are running tourism activities, with whose permission?

Look at this, a one night stay for an individual at Glenburn Tea Estate costs roughly Rs 25000 per night. Yes, it includes food and transport and other facilities for the guest.

But do a rough math.

To be able to afford to stay ONE NIGHT at Glenburn Tea Tourism resort and enjoy the associated facilities, a tea garden worker from Glenburn has to work for 188 days - over 6 months, (assuming s/he can save all her/his wages during that time).

IS IT FAIR?

The tea garden workers are only asking for the implementation of the Minimum Wages Act in the tea gardens of Darjeeling and Dooars. All of your support is needed.

Via DAWN

Rs.172 - Price of blood, sweat and life of a Tea garden worker in Gorkhaland!

12:28 PM
‘All wealth is the product of labor’- John Locke 

Tea plantations of Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai encompass the two extremes of human existence, the unimaginable opulence of Tea garden owners and the abject impoverishment of workers. Behind the idyllic hills, the scenic gardens, the “romance of the two leaves and a bud”, and the “smiling faces” of the workers, what remains carefully hidden is the ugly truth of sub-human wages, more than a thousand starvation deaths, and seething anger.
Tea workers in Gorkhaland

The ongoing wage negotiations for tea gardens in the Hills, Dooars & Terai has yet again brought to fore what the West Bengal government and the industry wishes to brush under the carpet. It is another manifestation of the complicity of the state in depriving the workers of their basic minimum level of sustenance. Darjeeling tea derived its value (even has its own Geographical Indication-GI mark) from its qualitative excellence and high exportability. Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai produces one of finest and most sought after tea in the international market (Iran, Japan, UK, Russia, UAE). Such is the demand for Darjeeling tea that in the year 2016 the finest quality of Darjeeling tea was sold at Rs 1.12 lakh per kg. Tea industry makes valuable contribution to both Central and State Government coffers by way of different Central and State taxes. The West Bengal State enjoys approximately 1500 crores of revenue generated from tea gardens annually along with the revenue from tea tourism, forest, hydel project etc. However, the contributions of the tea garden workers have been rewarded by hardship, struggle, denial of basic rights, untimely medical facilities, forced lockdown of tea gardens and starvation deaths. This perennial appalling condition has compelled the workers of 273 tea gardens to hit the streets and raise their voice for higher wages. Examining the closest history, the wage of workers’ was Rs.45 per day in 2001, Rs. 90 per day in 2010 and Rs.95 per day in 2011. After repeated pressure from workers trade unions, it was increased to Rs 132.50 in 2016. In February 2018, the wage was decided upon as Rs 150/day. However, following the disagreements and protests from the tea gardens workers trade unions, the planters agreed to increase the wage only to Rs 172 per day on 5th August 2018, which the workers have out rightly rejected.

How low is the wage rate in tea gardens?
First, workers of Darjeeling, Dooars, Tarai and Assam are paid the lowest wage among all tea plantations located in India. Eg. Tamil Nadu pays Rs. 303, Karnataka pays Rs 317 while Kerala pays Rs. 600 per day. Ironically tea produced from these locations are not much demanded in international market and fetches low price, even then the tea garden owners are able to pay decent wages more than that of Darjeeling. Secondly, wages of tea garden workers of Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai is even lower than the government mandated minimum wages in similar occupations in West Bengal. The recently proposed wage rate by the planters and state government for the tea garden workers of Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai is Rs 172, which is even lower than minimum wage paid in Cinchona plantation located in the same region (Rs. 211), in Beedi leaf plucking (Rs. 255), in Agriculture (Rs 278). Thirdly, the money wage was Rs 90 in 2010 and it was proposed to be hiked to Rs 172 on 5th August, 2018. However, if we take into account the rising living expenses (due to rising prices over time-inflation), the real wage (what money wage is able to buy in terms of goods and services) hike is miniscule in terms of purchasing power. For e.g. the goods and services, which could be purchased using Rs. 90 in 2010, will cost Rs.141 in 2018. Even Rs.90 in 2010 was the lowest wage received by workers among workers in other industries during that time. This implies that workers until last year (Rs 132.5 in 2017) were not even getting wage, which could buy same amount of goods they used to buy with Rs. 90 in 2010. Similarly, Rs 172 of 2018 will only buy the same amount of goods what workers could have bought with Rs.109 in 2010. This means that the wage hike proposed by planters is very low if we take into account the rising daily expenses of tea garden workers. Workers are demanding Rs 239.82 as minimum wage, which is just equal to the purchasing power of Rs 152 of 2010. The minimum wage of Rs 239.82 is not even 40% of minimum wage of tea garden workers in Kerala. In an era where LPG refilling costs around Rs 1000, the tea garden workers are bound to survive on a monthly average income of Rs 5000. Since, tea garden is the main source of income for the families, it is beyond impossible to maintain a decent livelihood with such a minimum wage leading intergenerational poverty trap. Contrary to this deplorable condition of workers, the CEO of a tea company (Goodricke Group Limited, Annual Report, 2017-18) has a salary scale of Rs. 4-7 lakhs per month with additional Rs. 50,000 special allowance per month.
What do various reports say? Nearly 1500 tea plantation workers of Dooars and Terai have died due to starvation in the last ten years. According to the state government’s Labour Department Survey (2013) report, nearly Rs 47 crore rupees of provident fund was unpaid to workers in 75 tea gardens in 2013. Around 80% of the gardens had no medical staff and most of the gardens had no access to basic health facilities. The International Labour Organisation in its 2005 report clearly states that the Tea Board, which is the regulating authority of the Tea Industry, has failed to fulfill its stipulated function. They have continuously ignored wage and provident fund defaults of tea gardens, while portraying this crisis only as a marketing mismanagement. The ILO report also suspects that there is collusion between the planters and the State, which is highlighted by the non-implementation of the Tea Act, 1953. Studies show that 70% of the people of the closed tea gardens suffer from chronic energy deficiency III stage. The scale of deprivation and dispossession of livelihoods is such that the workers are forced to languish till they die of hunger and malnutrition. The Supreme Court’s order (dated 06.08.10) categorically asked the Government of India to carry out its statutory duty under Tea Act 1953. This allows the central government to take over the management/control of sick tea gardens (under section 16 B/D/E of the Act) and take steps thereafter to ensure that the interest of the workers are well protected and dues are all paid in time but such clauses never get invoked to protect the interest of the workers. Such low wages and exploitative conditions have resulted in large migration of workers from the tea estate. Human trafficking is also very rampant in the region. A report of a joint study by Unicef, Save the Children and Burdwan University (in 2010) estimates around 3,500 minors alone were trafficked from 12 gardens of Dooars alone.

We reject the recent offers by the Planters and Government of abysmally low wage hike from Rs.150 to Rs. 172.
We demand: 1. Declare and implement decent Minimum Wage for tea Plantation workers equivalent to that of state of Kerala 2. Grant legal ownership of land rights to workers 3. Reopen closed and abandoned tea estates immediately 4. Casual labour in tea gardens should be regularised as soon as possible 5. Backlog of unpaid provident fund and gratuity should be cleared immediately. We salute and stand in solidarity with the uncompromising struggle of workers for their rightful demand. Any attempt to break the unity of the workers or dilute the demands or betray the struggle must be resisted at all cost.

Gorkha Students, JNU Issued on 13/08/18

Darjeeling tea gardens have become a hotbed for trafficking

Tea gardens that once brewed the world-famous Darjeeling tea have now become a hotbed for trafficking, owing to the undermining of labour rights and rising deprivation.

The Dooars region of West Bengal is known for its alluvial soil and cool climatic conditions, making it a fertile ground for tea gardens. But as tea gardens shut owing to financial and operational constraints, they have in turn become a fertile ground for human trafficking. As production declines, exploitation and deprivation rise.

Pooja was trafficked from Chuapara Tea Estate, Alipurduar, in 2013, when she was 13 years old. She was taken to Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, and sold to a ‘placement agency’ called City Service. Two more girls and two boys were also sold to the agency at the same time. Muskan Khatun, the main accused, insisted that she was actually 16 when she was trafficked and that she went with the agents despite Khatun’s warning her against it. Community Correspondent Harihar Nagbansi, reporting on the case, accessed her birth certificate which proved that she was 13 at the time she was trafficked.  Regardless of whether she was 13 or 16, she was still a minor who was illegally taken away and sold for domestic labour, quite possibly in highly exploitative conditions. For four years, the family could do nothing but wait.

Pooja was brought back home in April 2018, thanks to the local police that tagged team with the Jammu and Kashmir police. It was Harihar’s video, along with the efforts of NGOs like Kripa and Bachpan Bachao Andolan, that got the police to act with urgency. Harihar also credits Chandmuni, Pooja’s mother, for her determination. But the story does not end here, because what happened with Pooja was not an isolated case and not a problem unique to Chuapara alone.

Trafficking is an organised crime, across domestic and international borders. The numbers from the latest National Crime Records Bureau data, speak for themselves. 8,057 persons were reported to be trafficked in 2016. 44% of the cases were reported from West Bengal, of these, the largest proportion was of minor girls. And these are only the on-record figures. Police apathy, lack of awareness and stigma are known to be some of the reasons human trafficking is underreported.

While Pooja was fortunate to be brought back, the other children who were taken with her are still in Srinagar. On an average, 174 children go missing in India every day. Unlike Chandmuni, many parents do not even have a lead. Moreover, trafficked persons are often sold many times over, making it all the more difficult to trace them. In the worst cases, they are killed by those who keep them as bonded slaves.

Underlying causes
Poor economic conditions, lack of educational opportunities, social exclusion and isolation, make people vulnerable to trafficking. At the other end of this deal are rapid urbanisation and the consequent want for cheap labour in other parts of the country. Placement agencies that supply cheap labour to middle and upper-class households in metropolitan cities, to development projects, to brothels, and to villages in Punjab and Haryana as brides.
Minors are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Presented with the prospects of a glamorous city life, many children might choose to escape from their present living conditions. Khatun also said the same thing about Pooja, that she consented to go despite warnings. But the crucial difference here is that children, and even adults, might give consent but not informed consent. To a 13-year-old living in harsh poverty, the prospect of living in a city and having access to facilities, even at the cost of some labour, might sound appealing. In fact, sometimes, children who are brought back often get tricked into being trafficked once again.

Why tea gardens?
The tea industry is touted as the country’s second largest employer, but also an industry that undermines labour rights and deprives workers and their families deprived of the most basic needs. There’s widespread poverty and malnutrition, obvious factors underscoring the desire for a better life. The availability of basic facilities like healthcare and education is also poor. Wages are as low as ₹132 a day, says Harihar, especially in Dooars. And sometimes, even this wage is not paid on time, never mind the bonus.

As the tea shrubs age, production declines and many tea gardens and tea factories shut down temporarily or permanently without rehabilitating their workers. Political instability in the Darjeeling hills, which has spread to the foothills, has also taken a toll, especially on already-sick tea gardens. Of the 60 tea gardens in Alipurduar, 28 are sick or stressed and six entirely shut. To make ends meet, some take up stone-crushing, and others continue to work in the tea gardens but for independent contractors; both jobs pay even lower.

In the Dooars region, the majority of the workers are Adivasis whose families migrated to the foothills generations ago, mostly from what is present-day Jharkhand. In a state and an industry dominated by upper-caste and upper-class Bengalis and business communities, Adivasi lives are already valued less, isolating them socially and culturally. In such a situation, both migration and trafficking abound.
Dooars is also contiguous with the ‘chicken-neck’ area on the map of India, a narrow region neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, all porous borders. Women and children are often trafficked from both sides of these borders, for manual and sexual labour.

What is being done to combat it?
When Harihar asks Chandmuni what she will do to ensure that her daughter is not taken away again, she says that she will engage her in some work and even educate her if she wants to study. The lack of rehabilitation facilities for those rescued coupled with stigma, especially for girls who are trafficked, make it difficult for children to adjust to life in their homes once again.
However, education, like Chandmuni points out, is an important step. Binay Narjenary, a representative of Kripa, says that awareness is crucial. “People must be made aware of the problems girls and women face, and then take steps to ensure their safety”, he says.

NGOs seem to be at the forefront of tackling the problem, as of now. But local NGOs have limitations in curbing a country-wide crime with networks and nodes that cannot be traced. They can provide support in individual cases, but putting an end to trafficking requires the active participation of the state.

To this end, the government introduced the Anti-Trafficking Bill which has recently been passed by the Lok Sabha. But the Bill, unfortunately, does more injustice than justice. To begin with, it continues to criminalise victims of trafficking by trying them for working without authorisation in case of domestic labour or soliciting in case of sexual labour. Moreover, it runs into the danger of conflating migration and trafficking; both phenomena might have similar underlying causes, but the former is voluntary and cannot be penalised. The Bill also recommends rehabilitation measures like state-run shelter homes, which have been rejected by bodies like the UN.

If passed, the Bill will be an insensitive piece of legislation, even on paper. While on the ground, no legislation is enough to change attitudes towards trafficking or to break the silence around it. Combined efforts by local communities, NGOs, individuals and state officials, like in Pooja’s case, are a beginning, but long-term solutions will come from regular awareness, sensitive laws, efficient implementation and socio-economic development and sustainable livelihoods.

Article by Alankrita Anand

Via YKA

GNLF TO GHERAO GTA HEADQUARTER LAL KOTHI ON 4TH MAY

7:30 AM

GNLF'S sister wing Himalayan Planters Workers Union [ HPWU] today in a press conference at Darjeeling said that they will gherao GTA headquarter LAL KOTHI on 4th  May demanding the immediate release of the daily wages of the labours which they are yet to receive of the 104 days strike.

Speaking with the press HPWU President JB Tamang said that on 4th May we have decided to involve  workers from all the tea gardens of Darjeeling hills as they are the ones who are discriminated .

  We will be picketing in different places like Rohini, Sukna, Bagpool and Panighata from 27th April where all the central committee members of the HPWU will participate keeping in mind the 7 point demand for the welfare of the tea garden workers said Tamang. He further said we have decided these places for picketing as these places are the main doorway to transport pukka tea to Siliguri from the hills.

Workers from different tea gardens had  participated whole heartedly during the movement for the seperate state Gorkhaland. But the leaders both Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa who were at the forefront during the movement have accepted  GTA , but  they have not taken any step for the tea garden workers said Tamang.

He further said that we are hearing that vice chairman of GTA Anit Thapa is distributing umbrellas to the workers, but they don't need umbrellas they need their wages of 104 days. Since both Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa are not taking any initiative at the demands of the tea garden workers  thus to keep the demands of the workers  we will gherao GTA headquarter on 4th May said Tamang.

Darjeeling Likely to Witness Another Agitation

11:46 AM
gjm
Darjeeling Likely to Witness Another Agitation From May 1

In an interview given to the Himalayan Beacon, published on Tuesday, CITU has declared that they would be launching an agitation for the workers of Darjeeling, Terai and Duars from May 1. The agitation, however, will mostly focus on the demands of the tea garden and hotel workers. This can be perceived as an affront to the Darjeeling-based Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). This faction had earlier declared that the hills will not witness any more strikes. However, the workers’ agitation will most probably be too prickly for the faction to handle, considering that they form the core base of voters in the hills.

As far as the tea garden workers are concerned CITU has three demands; that the workers be brought under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, that they should receive the ration money owed to them, and that they should receive land rights.

Tea gardens are not one of the Scheduled Employments in West Bengal under the Minimum Wages Act. The issue of the tea garden workers began in 2014 when they had agitated to be brought under the Minimum Wages Act. In 2015, a tripartite agreement was signed between the workers’ unions, the owners’ union and the West Bengal Government. The agreement stipulated a gradual increase in the minimum wage over a period of three years. In 2017 another meeting was called to revise the minimum wages agreed to in 2015, other than the Trinamool Congress affiliated unions, all the others stayed away in protest against the move. CITU in the interview has alleged that three years since the first agreement was signed, the workers are yet to receive the agreed minimum wages. This also ties into their demand that the ration money owed to workers be paid. As a result, they demand that the entire amount owed to the workers be paid, and that tea gardens also come under the Act.

The issue of land rights is another sore point. According to the CITU representative, the provisions of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, has not been extended to the tea garden workers. When the tea gardens were first established in Darjeeling, the colonial planters had secured large areas of forest which they converted into plantations. However, not all the area claimed by the gardens has been cleared. It is in these forested parts where the workers have established their homes. Thus generations of tea garden workers have lived on these lands. On this basis, after the 2006 Act came into force, the workers were entitled to hold title over the land on which they live.

The issues highlighted by the CITU representative for the hospitality industry workers focused on; wages for the period of the 2017 agitation, that benefits such as gratuity, provident fund, employees state insurance, and health insurance be extended to them and that they should be able to avail leave on government holidays. Here too, they had launched a movement in 2015, seeking that minimum wages be fixed based on the type ofestablishment – a small restaurant would pay less than a five-star hotel. The movement resulted in a bipartite agreement with the hotel owners’ association. However, the agreement has yet to be implemented. In this regard, the CITU representative has declared expanded demands for the hospitality industry workers.

The CITU representative also mentioned that though the agitation at present is focused on the plight of the tea garden and hospitality industry workers, the agitation would be for the rights of all the workers in the region. He specifically mentioned the hospital staff, construction workers and migrant workers in this regard. He also stated that the unions had submitted memorandums to the concerned owners and that the memorandums contained an ultimatum that unless their demands are met, they would launch an agitation from May 1 till the end of July. This point is significant since the agitation would cripple the tourism industry.

The Binay Tamang – Anit Thapa faction of the GJM has stated that they are pro-business and would not allow any agitations or strikes in the hills. However, they appear to have forgotten the origins of the GJM’s founder, Bimal Gurung. Gurung came from a family of tea garden workers. His residence and the nucleus of the GJM’s power lay in Patleybas, a notoriously poor and rough neighbourhood on the fringes of Darjeeling. One of Gurung’s most popular moves among the tea garden workers in the Darjeeling hills was in 2011 when he was able to secure a raise in their wages. Prior to his intervention, the workers were getting Rs. 67 per day, he was, however, able to raise it to Rs. 90. This worked out as an increase of around 34 percent. At present, the agitation that has been threatened seeks to raise this wage further.

Chances are that the Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction will intervene at least in the hills to prevent the agitation from taking place. In the Dooars and Terai, the Bimal Gurung faction still holds sway, it is unlikely that they would miss an opportunity to bring their rival faction down a peg. If the matter is not resolved by May 1, Darjeeling will lose another year of tourism revenue. However, this clearly appears to be a gamble the workers are willing to risk

Solidarity from Gorkha Students, JNU for tea garden workers

10:26 AM

A statement of solidarity from Gorkha Students, JNU to the protesting tea garden workers for their minimum wage

All tea workers unions from Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai under the broad banner of Joint Forum have decided to go for a 48 hour strike in Bengal against the exploitation of tea garden owners of Bengal, who are living in deplorable condition with less than minimum wage which is insufficient to live a dignified life. It is co-incidentally at the same time when the people of Gorkhaland are struggling against the oppressive linguistic imposition of the Bengal government on the indigenous people of the land.  The Hills, Terai and Dooars of Gorkhaland are gripped in seething angst when it is forced to witness the misery of its own people in the form of hunger and starvation deaths. It is outrageous to see the workers of a multi-million industry (tea plantation) dying a slow and painful death due to hunger and starvation. The irony of this situation is lies in the presence of stark poverty, chronic hunger and exploitation along-side the colossal profits these tea-gardens generate for the owners and the State. According to an estimate by the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce, tea industry in the hills generates an average of Rs. 450 crores revenue annually, equal to that of the tourism industry in the region. Absence of workers’ rights, non-payment of minimum wages and benefits is not specific to the tea-industry alone but is rather a persistent feature of work in the highly segment labour-market in India. However, it is pertinent to highlight here the starkly Regional Aspects of Discrimination that lies so strongly visible in the tea industry. The minimum wage paid to unskilled tea labour in Kerala is Rs.301, in Assam it is Rs.158.54, in neighbouring Sikkim it is Rs. 200 while the same in Darjeeling comes to a meagre Rs.112. Even the minimum wage paid in West Bengal for MGNREGA is around Rs. 130-151 and for agricultural laborer is Rs. 206 per day. The tea workers in North Bengal are thus made to work for wages which is far below the minimum in any form of work. It is very shrewd on the part of the owners to claim low wages are due to low price being earned from the sales of tea leaves produced from these gardens. If this be the case then why the wages of workers remains same in those tea gardens which fetches the highest price in the world tea market( for instance Rs. 1.1 lakhs per kg of tea is produced by Makaibari tea garden but wages remain still at Rs.112).
In the last decade more than 1400 tea workers have died due to acute malnutrition and starvation. As recent as January 2013, 95 workers of the locked out Dheklapara Tea Estate in Dooars sent a letter to the Chief Minister of West-Bengal seeking her “order” to kill themselves because they were suffering from acute starvation. The tea workers therefore are forced to languish till they die of hunger and malnutrition. Studies show that 70% of the people of the closed tea gardens suffer from chronic energy deficiency III stage. In the gardens affected by starvation death like Red Bank, Bandapani, Diana and Kathalguri tea gardens, it was found that workers and their families have Body Mass Index (BMI) identical to those populations affected by severe famine.
The starvation death in the tea gardens, the crushing of the identity of the Gorkhas and other minorities and the denial of basic rights to oppressed communities in Bengal has been a phenomenon for centuries in Bengal. The hegemonic forces are united to crush every single voice of dissent and so now the time has come that the oppressed be united to fight against this domination for a better tomorrow.
At this hour of crisis, Gorkha Students, JNU stands in full support with the tea garden workers and the Gorkha people in their struggle for dignity, self-respect and a better life. When Oppressors are always united and consolidated, it is a historic responsibility on our shoulders to unite and fight for a just and egalitarian society!
We also demand that:
1. Closed and abandoned tea estates be reopened immediately.
2. Stop privatisation of government operated tea gardens.
3. Declare and implement Minimum Wage for tea plantation workers.
4. Grant legal ownership of housing space to workers
5. Casual labour should also be brought under the purview of Plantation Labour Act, 1951.
6. Backlog of unpaid Provident fund and gratuity should be cleared without delay.

Gorkha Students, JNU

 
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