It is with great pleasure we welcome you to USA. Madison Square Garden is currently being transformed to ‘Modison Square Garden’, with Indian Americans from all over USA attending your live address, an event already sold out . Rest of your itinerary is packed too, UNGA, summit with President Obama et al. People are curious to know how a “tea seller’s son”, as you often describe yourself, went on to become the PM of India, the largest democracy of the world.
During elections, many debates were held over a cup of tea, “chai pe charcha” (chat,
over a cup of tea) , as you called it, resulting in your party’s thundering victory. ‘Tea’ dominated your election campaign.
It is in the same vein that I would like to bring to your kind notice, the plight of the tea workers in the state of West Bengal. There has been a rise in the death toll of the workers between the ages 20-40. Malnutrition has resulted in low BMIs, lower than the critical value of 18.5 given by WHO. Many have a BMI below 16, a life threatening status. There is also a problem with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. People are living among cesspools.
They are being paid around Rs. 95 per day, which is much less than the stipulated rate of wage. According to The Plantations Labor Act of 1951, they should be provided housing, medical, educational and other facilities, which are currently lacking in many instances. These workers were uprooted from their villages from Central India, during the British rule, to work on the tea plantations, and have nowhere to go now.
The plantation owners are giving the excuse of declining sales, and are hence not able to provide them adequate wages and facilities.Many plantaitons are closed, e.g., Dooars Tea Estate, Surendranagar, Dharanipur , Dheklapara and Bandapani Tea Estates.
The situation in these places is even more dire. Rice distributed under PDS scheme is not fit for consumption. With no income and no food to eat, some families have resorted to eating shrubs collected from the gardens.
More than 1000 people have died due to malnutrition. The State Government has declined to acknowledge that these deaths occurred due to starvation. It has even declined to recognize that there was any malnutrition death.
A delegation of the joint forum of tea garden labor unions, met Minister for Commerce and Industries Nirmala Sitharaman (from your government) and updated her on the above facts. The National Human Rights Commission has asked the State government to send a report about the deaths. Has there been any progress in this direction?
The plucking season of tea leaves ends in October, after which more tea gardens would be closed by owners making the situation worse. It is no more a labor issue or a state issue. It is a serious violation of human rights.
Your slogan ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ (Development for all), should extend here. Nobody deserves this, it is very sad situation All that the the tea workers need is a life of
dignity, rather a right to live. Please look into the matter urgently, and take immediate steps, before it escalates even further.
A simple human.
By: Manasi Gandhi
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