The chorus for stronger provisions for tea garden workers’ welfare is getting stronger with investments starting to flow in for tourism in tea gardens following the Bengal government’s recent policy.
The management of Kanchan View tea garden in Darjeeling is looking to invest Rs 100 crore to set up a resort. Another garden in Kurseong, Jungpana, is also likely to attract multi-crore investment in the days to come. However, there have been workers’ protests in both these gardens.
On Tuesday, Anit Thapa, the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM) and an ally of Trinamul, wrote to chief minister Mamata Banerjee flagging the workers’ concerns related to tourism in tea gardens.
“Since this policy has come into force, a lot of investment is pouring into the tea gardens. Yet madam, while implementing various sections mentioned in the policy, local sentiments should be heard and taken into consideration too,” Thapa wrote.
The Tea Tourism and Allied Business Policy 2019 allows for utilisation of 15 per cent of the total grant area subject to a maximum of 150 acres for tea tourism and allied activities. Allowed business activities are tea tourism, plantation, animal husbandry, hydro power, non-conventional energy resources, social infrastructure and services.
“An illustrative list of activities under above broad categories may include tourism resorts, wellness centres, schools, colleges, universities, medical/nursing college, hospitals, cultural/recreational & exhibition centre, horticulture, floriculture, medicinal plants, food processing units, packaging units etc,” the policy states.
The activities can come up only on vacant/surplus land without curtailment/compromise in areas under tea plantation. However, there have been allegations that the management of some tea gardens have uprooted tea bushes in the recent past to pave way for tourism activities.
With the state providing an array of choices to seek alternative business, many feel that most of the tea gardens in north Bengal will try to take undue advantage of this new policy. This has given rise to fear among workers on issues like displacement and fate of the tea industry.
“I request your office to look into the policy, and also make sure that not a single house, hamlet or village is uprooted, relocated in the name of development,” Thapa wrote, adding that the state should ensure that workers get priority in projects that come up on tea gardens.
Many in the hills are aggrieved that while corporate firms are allowed to invest in the gardens, workers are not allowed to run homestays.
“It is requested that the government duly form a policy under the purview of the existing policy of 2019 that facilitates the tea garden workers with the permission to operate home stays ….,” Thapa has stated in the letter.