Hunger Death of a Worker at Madhu Tea Estate


  • February 7, 2024
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Dhani Oraon, a 58 years old permanent worker (PF No. WB/889/2514) from Madhu Tea Garden, died of starvation on 2nd February 2024, reflecting once more on the apathy of the state government and the garden management to the terrible state of tea garden workers.

 

Groundxero | 7th February, 2024

 

Dhani Ora (58), a permanent tea-garden worker (PF No. WB/889/2514) in Madhu Tea Estate located at Kalchini Block in Alipurduar District (which had re-opened in 2021 after 7 years of closure) died of starvation on 2nd February 2024, reflecting once more on the apathy of the state government and the garden management to the terrible state of tea garden workers.

 

A fact-finding report into the incident by the Paschim Banga Cha Majoor Samity, Right to Food and Work Campaign West Bengal and independent lawyers revealed that Dhani Ora died because he and his wife were living off alms for the past few years as their Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card (entitling them to get 15 Kg of rice and 19 Kg of Atta or 20 Kg of wheat per family member per month) was cancelled due to problems with Aadhaar linkage.

 

The Central Government, despite its loud proclamations of free food grains under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana has made Aadhaar linkage compulsory with disastrous consequences for families like Dhani’s. In addition, the tea garden management did not provide him with work, housing or medical facilities though he was a permanent worker. The State Government also turned a blind eye after getting the garden reopened, not bothering to see if the management was actually meeting its statutory obligations towards workers.

 

The major findings of the report are discussed herein below and the full fact-finding report is given at the end.

 

Major findings of the report

 

Madhu Tea garden (Kalchini block of Alipurduar district) was re-opened after 7 years of closure on 27th December 2021. Since then, the management has not been meeting their statutory obligations of providing workers with health facilities, housing, timely wages, depositing provident fund, paying gratuity etc. In flagrant violation of the Payments of Wages Act 1936, the team found that the employees of Madhu Tea Estate have received salaries of only one fortnight in the last two months. The Tea Estate has a total strength of 951 workers, but at present only 300-400 workers are employed by the garden management.

 

Dhani Oraon, despite being a permanent worker, suffered from severe malnutrition after 7 years of the garden-closure. He was unable to work due to frequent seizures even after the garden re-opened. With no source of income, and the State government’s Rs.1500 monthly dole of FAWLOI (Financial Assistance to the Workers of Locked Out Industries) stopping after re-opening of the garden, Dhani Oraon and his wife Asarani Oraon, who is his sole family member, were reduced to begging from their neighbours for food. Due to the irregularity of work and wages in the garden, even neighbours were often unable to help, reducing the family to one or at most two meals a day.

 

In a sad reflection of the family’s dire straits, the fact finding team found Asarani Oraon to be severely malnutritioned. The team measured her height and weight to ascertain her BMI. Details are as follows: Height: 4 feet 10 inches; Weight: 26 KGs; BMI: 12 kg/m2.

 

According to the World Health Organisation, a BMI <16.0 is known to be associated with a markedly increased risk for ill-health, poor physical performance, lethargy and even death.

 

In further evidence of the State Government’s and managements neglect, the team reported the following:

 

  1. The couple had an Antodaya Anna Yojana Card (Card No: AAY 0205488469), which entitles them to 35 kgs of free food grains per month. In its enthusiasm to curb corruption, the Central Government has made Aadhaar linkage of cards mandatory. The family was unable to do this and so they have been unable to get rations for the past 2-3 years. The records of the Fair Price shop and that of the Food & Supply Department showed cancelled and/or deactivated cards for the past two years and showed no history of transaction, but mysteriously, the Joint BDO informed that his records showed lifting of rations till September 2023.

 

  1. Despite numerous Duare Sarkar camps, the couple did not receive benefits of State Government schemes like Tapashili Bandhu or Lakshmi Bhandar.

 

  1. There are practically no medical facilities in the tea estate, in direct violation of sections 10, 27, 28 and 32 of Plantation Labour Act 1951. Even on the day of his death the family could not afford medical care as the nearest hospital Lothabari PHC is 15 kms away and would have cost Rs.300-400 to travel to. He therefore died at home without receiving any treatment during the long course of his illness.

 

  1. Despite the late Dhani being a permanent employee, the couple lives in a makeshift hut/tent of a couple of bamboos and a tarpaulin. This is in violation of section 15 and 16 of Plantation Labour Act 1951. ALC being the Inspector under the Plantation Labour Act 1951 has not been carrying out inspection at the garden to ascertain the compliance of the 1951 Act.

 

  1. Madhu Tea Garden has not been depositing provident fund of its workers since re-opening. No worker is able to access this fund even for emergencies, as the team found in Dhani’s case.

 

  1.  Tea garden management neglected the entire population and did not discharge its statutory obligations of providing health care, housing, timely wages, provident fund access and deposit etc. The government, despite being fully aware of the situation, took no steps against the management. The inaction by the government has made this entire population which was already weak due to long closure vulnerable.

 

Response of the Administration:

 

The team met the BDO, the Assistant Labour Commissioner and the ADM LR. None of them had any idea about the death and queries that they made in front of the team revealed that even the Panchayat and the local ration dealer had any idea about the death. The administration was informed of the death by the team. Subsequently, 48 kgs of food grains were given to the widow, and she was taken for admission to the local PHS by the government. There has been no inspection carried out by the Assistant Labour Commissioner for the last few years as well.

 

Demands raised by the team:

 

  1.  Constitute an independent team to investigate the death of the Shri Dhani Oraon and take strict action in accordance with law against all erring officials and/or individuals.

 

  1.  Provide adequate compensation to the widow for the starvation death of Dhani Oraon.

 

  1.  Make necessary arrangements and take proactive measures to ensure that the Widow of Dhani Oraon gets access to all government welfare schemes including but not limited to AAY, Lakshmir Bhandar, Toposhili Bondhu etc.

 

  1.  Make necessary arrangements and take proactive measures to conduct thorough check up and ensure that the widow of Dhani Oraon gets immediate medical attention.

 

  1.  The Assistant Labour Commissioner, Birpara must carry out inspection In the Madhu Tea Estate and take strict action against the management for Non-compliance of various labour laws.

 

  1.  Undertake an immediate assessment of the Public Distribution System in the entire district.

 

  1.  Undertake a study to ascertain nutrition level and/or hunger level and/or Health condition among the workers in all gardens that have been recently reopened and gardens which are going through a cycle of reopening and closure.

 

Please see below the detailed fact finding report.

 

FACT FINDING REPORT Madhu tea estate

 

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