Workers starving due to closure of tea estates in North Bengal
Kalavati Barai of Raipur Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri has been watching the consistent deterioration of her family of six over the past four years. In March this year, her husband succumbed to severe anaemia and related complications. "I couldn't feed him, so he died,' she states simply. Since the tea garden was abandoned by its owners in 2003, they have been subsisting largely on one meal of rice a day. Kalavati's youngest son, 13-year-old Kartik, is now severely ill but she can't afford his medicines. "He hasn't been to school for three years now. The doctor says his kidney is damaged. What do I give him? I have nothing.' There are several others like her who are suffering because of closure of 14 tea gardens in North Bengal in 2003-04.
Most of the gardens closed after production fell and profits plummeted due to low yields from ageing tea bushes. Several gardens were abandoned by their owners, leaving behind large debts and dues of Rs 18.69 crore in workers' provident funds. More than 17,000 workers at these tea estates have been struggling; there are no other means of livelihood. An estimated 1,000 people