Govt puts workers above tea tourism

The Bengal government has asserted in writing that there should be no curtailment in activities related to tea production to launch tourism facilities in tea estates  in northern districts of the state.

No land can be forcibly acquired from anyone in the gardens for creating tourism facilities, the state department of commerce and industry has written in its statement dated June 13.

In 2019, the state had published the “Tea Tourism and Allied Business Policy” to encourage development of tourism infrastructure in unused land of tea estates. It was deemed a move to create alternative job options for the tea population. 

However, over the past few months, workers and residents of a number of tea estates, especially in Darjeeling hills, have alleged that plans drawn up by some tea companies to promote tourism are affecting their livelihood at the gardens.

There were allegations that some of the owners are trying to stop tea production and develop tourism infrastructure on garden land. Some workers had alleged that the owners have asked them to shift to some other location of the garden as the land on which their quarters are located presently would be used for tourism.

The allegations had also prompted some of the political leaders in the hills to react and Anit Thapa, who heads the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), had sent a letter to the state government on the issue in April this year. 

“In his letter, Thapa requested a reassessment of the tea tourism policy and said it should be implemented while keeping in mind the interest of dwellers of tea estates,” said a source.

His letter, sources said, made the state respond to the policy limits.

“The tea tourism policy is meant for development of vacant or surplus land in tea gardens without any curtailment or compromise in area under the tea plantation. There shall be no reduction in the plantation area and retrenchment of the existing workforce engaged in the garden,” reads the state government’s letter.