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Tea garden labourers facing extreme economic hardship

By Roop Choudhury

GOALPARA, April 16 - Tea garden labourers, working as daily-wage earners at the Maijonga Tea Estate in Raikhyasini, Garopara Part II under Matia Revenue Circle, around 6.5 km from the district headquarters of Goalpara, have been facing extreme economic hardship during the lockdown period.

These people are simply at a loss as to whom they can speak of their woes as they are out of work in the tea gardens since the lockdown started on March 25. They said that the lockdown extension till May 3 would bring unprecedented hardship as their employer follows the principle �No work, No Pay�.

This correspondent, while travelling through the area with a team from the Red Cross Society, Goalpara branch, met some females labourers who are living in abject poverty in hamlets in the Raikhyasini Part-I and Part-II areas.

For these labourers, life is full of uncertainties with very little income besides day-to-day hardship. Some female labourers expressed concern over their earnings as daily labourers, saying that their income has totally stopped and most of them have run out of money.

They also said that the relief distributed by the government was insufficient and they were not able to sustain their families. There is also shortage of drinking water as most of the wells in the area have dried up.

Kamona Ghosh, a 33-year-old who resides in Raikhyasini Part-II and works as a temporary labourer at the tea estate, said her family is excluded from the public distribution system as she does not have a ration card and has a family of seven members. To augment the family�s income, her husband runs a small tea stall in front of her hut which is now closed due to the lockdown. She harvested some paddy recently from her small plot of land on which the entire family is dependent. Her family also depends on wild edible tropical plants and tubers to enrich their diet.

She is now short of food and said that she has not received any relief. She has no clue how to feed her family due to extension of the lockdown, and said, �we are going to bed with hunger pangs�.

Though she admitted to having received Rs 500 in her Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana account, she alleged that some people who not engaged in farming activities are getting money under the PM-Kishan scheme whereas her family has been excluded despite being engaged in agriculture activities.

She has been hardly able to observe the mandatory health guidelines laid down by the government as precautions against coronavirus. Proper sanitation is still a far cry in the neighbourhood affected by low standard of living. She uses her chadar as a mask to cover her face and there is lack of awareness regarding the dreaded virus and the need for social distancing in the neighbourhood.

Another example is Lata Pal, a 35-year-old who works as a casual labourer and gets Rs 167 as daily wage at the Amjonga Tea Estate. She has a ration card and has received 25 kg rice and Rs 500 in her PM Jan Dhan Yojana account.

She has two minor daughters and they have been surviving on rice, salt mixed with a little mustard oil with wild edible plants but no vegetables.

Pal works with pottery in her spare time and her husband sells the items in the market, earning a measly sum of around Rs 600 per month. She said she is worried about her daughters in the absence of proper sanitation, potable water and household toilet.

Ashim Kumar Chakravorty, manager of the Maijonga Tea Estate, said that the tea garden is reeling under heavy financial loss following the lockdown, and the loss at present is estimated at around Rs 1 lakh daily.

The tea leaves have overgrown and harvesting could not be done on time. He said he had received a verbal order to open the garden following the mandatory health guidelines.

The garden has 130 permanent and 110 casual labourers, and most of the permanent labourers have been engaged.

The manager said free ration will be provided by the garden management to the permanent labourers as per the Plantation Labour Act during the lockdown period. All the labourers have access to health facilities provided by the garden.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross Society, Goalpara branch, urged the labourers to remain vigilant and display strong resolve to fight the dreaded coronavirus. The Red Cross Society assured that masks will be distributed to all the labourers.

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