Dooars tea gardens in bad shape

Dooars tea gardens in bad shape

Workers' children have left schools; managers stay away

Dooars tea gardens in bad shape

Even if the attention is on the Duncans’ Bagrakote tea garden in the Dooars region of North Bengal, the conditions in some of the other closed gardens in the upcountry are worse.

Spread across hundreds of hectares, gardens like Birpara, Hantapara, Dumchipara, Lankapara, Tulsipara and Garganda are a shadow of what they were once—lush green expanse with the promise of profit and steady employment.

Birpara, one of the largest tea estates in Duncans’ stable, is perhaps the worst affected. Till 2014, the estate possessed even one lakh kilos of tea a day. Between October 30 and November 5, it managed to pick a meagre 4,000 kilos on its best day.

 Wearing the look of an industrial graveyard when compared to the well-maintained Goodricke-owned estate next to it, Birpara today is home to discarded machinery parts, chemical barrels and overgrown bushes.

While the 1,500-hectare Birpara once boasted of nearly 2,200 permanent workers on its rolls besides over 1,000 temporary workers, it now has less than 50 people plucking leaves on a daily basis.

The factory, which had a strength of almost 150, now has just 68 people, including clerks and accountants. The managers keep away from the estate after the payments stopped, fearing a backlash.

While the staffers have not been paid since May, rumours that salaries are still being credited to the managers’ accounts are doing the rounds. The impact can be seen on the social sides too.

 A yellow bus that used to take children of the garden workers to the nearby schools has been left abandoned because of no money for fuel.

A number of children have also left school because their parents cannot afford the fees any more, said Manoj, one of the few remaining office staffers.

He said while the focus of the administration and media is on Bagrakote, the situation in Birpara and other bigger gardens is worse.

‘Middle class’s problems’

The factory staffers said while reports on malnutrition deaths are taking into account the concern of pickers and other ground staffers living in ‘coolie lines’ at every garden but no one is talking about the sufferings of the office staffers.

“Since our pay was higher than the garden workers people think we’re doing fine. We’re middle-class people with aspirations and more debts than the workers,” said Robinson Kujur, one of Manoj’s colleagues.

He pointed out that Samir De, a 42-year-old X-ray technician at the garden hospital died on October 18 because he could not afford his medicines. According to Manoj, Birpara is on the brink of chaos and once there are no more leaves to pluck, people will start selling off the expensive equipment.

Situation in other areas

They also added that the situation in the cluster of Hantapara, Dumchipara, Lankapara, Tulsipara and Garganda gardens located close to the India-Bhutan border are in an equally bad shape.

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