At a time when tea workers in the Hills have started demanding traditional ration and other fringe benefits like firewood in kind and implementation of the Minimum Wages Act in the tea plantations, the state food and supplies department has finally decided to set up Fair Price Shops in each tea garden in the Hills.

According to the minister for food and supplies department, Jyotipriya Mallick, the shops will be set up in 303 tea gardens in the north Bengal tea belt, comprising north Dinajpur and Cooch Behar. “The total cost for the construction of a fair price shop is estimated at Rs 9.46 lakh for each tea garden in the plains. The cost of it has been estimated at Rs 9.20 lakh for the Hills,” Mr Mallick said after a review meeting held at Uttarkanya here on Monday.

Talking to the reporters, Mr Mallick added: “We have noticed that some tea garden owners drive out some consumers and they are deprived of their legitimate claims. Tea garden owners will not be able to deprive consumers after setting up the fair price shops.

Self Help Groups (SHG) will run such shops.” It may be noted that Mr Mallick on Monday inaugurated a fair price shop at Karala Valley Tea Garden in Jalpaiguri. According to Mr Mallick, the district magistrate will identify the land required for the project, near the main entrance of each tea plantation. It may be noted that the state food department implemented the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in tea plantations in February 2016.

Under the NFSA, all tea workers and non-workers in the tea belt are entitled to food grains at low prices. However, some workers and non-workers were allegedly deprived of their legitimate claims where the state distributed food grains through the tea garden management.

At present, planters distribute food grains under the NFSA, and as a result, the distribution of its traditional ration has been suspended. A section of tea workers has now started demanding that the value of the traditional ration be added to their wages. Another section, especially tea workers in the Hills, has also demanded that the management restart distributing traditional ration besides the ration under the NFSA.