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Call for safety measures in tea gardens

The plucking resumed following permission from the state government to use 25 percent workforce, based on an order issued by the Union Home ministry for using 50 percent workforce.

The Statesman Desk | Siliguri |

As tea estate owners and small tea growers started plucking of green leaves in their gardens in both the Hills and the plains comprising the Terai and the Dooars, and have also started manufacturing tea, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has lodged a complaint with Union home minister Amit Shah against what he called violation of social distancing and other health care protocol to fight COVID-19 in tea plantations in north Bengal.

The plucking resumed following permission from the state government to use 25 percent workforce, based on an order issued by the Union Home ministry for using 50 percent workforce. In a letter to Mr Shah, Mr Bista has requested him to take cognizance of the urgency of the matter and instruct plantation operations to be suspended till the general lockdown is in place “as these days are crucial in our collective fight against the coronavirus pandemic.”

Notably, Mr Bista wrote a letter to Mr Shah earlier too, urging him to review the Centre’s order to resume operations in tea plantation, and welcomed the decision of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to not allow such resumption. However, on 11 April, the state government finally allowed operations in the industry, following desperate appeals from tea garden owners, but by seriously following the social-distancing and other safety norms.

Significantly, the state government on Sunday issued an order, asking everyone to cover their mouth and nose at all times for prevention of transmission of the virus. Despite the state government’s effort to take up preventive measures, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista showcased an advisory purportedly issued by the Centre on Sunday to the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of West Bengal about lockdown violations in the state.

On the other hand, Chairman of the Chamong Tea Export Pvt Limited, Ashok Kumar Lohia, who owns 13 tea gardens in Darjeeling, said: “We are following instructions and guidelines of the government and will continue operations abiding by the government’s decisions. We must take care of tea garden workers.” Lawyer to move SC: Meanwhile, Delhi-based law practitioner Bandana Rai will file a writ petition in a Supreme Court against the state government’s order issued on 11 April 2020 for deployment of 25 percent workforce to continue operations in tea plantations in North Bengal.

Ms Rai had earlier filed a petition in the SC, which was heard on 7 April, and submitted a representation to the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, as per an order of the SC, requesting the state government to withdraw the exemption order issued on 28 March 2020 for deployment of workers for spraying and irrigation in tea plantations.

Notably, she had requested full wages to be paid by the government to the workers during the lockdown. “Kalimpong has been identified as a Covid-19 hotspot. There are six tea gardens in Kalimpong. The state has allowed deployment of 25 percent workforce. But practically almost all poor workers are joining work,” another Kalimpong-based senior lawyer Pratap Khati said.