Another Bengal tea garden worker dead; minister rules out starvation deaths

Siliguri/Kolkata, Dec 15 (IANS) One more tea garden worker died on Tuesday after failing to undergo costly medical treatment following prolonged illness, even as a West Bengal minister claimed not a single starvation death has taken place in the state’s tea gardens.

Sita Orao, a worker of the closed Red Bank tea garden in Jalpaiguri district, died on Tuesday morning, with her family claiming that she lacked money to fund her costly treatment.

In Kolkata, state Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak ruled out any starvation deaths in the north Bengal’s tea gardens.

Replying to a query from a Communist Party of India-Marxist member, Ghatak also denied in the state assembly that none of the workers died due to lack of treatment.

As opposition members cited newspaper reports about starvation deaths in tea gardens, the minister asked whether the legislators can produce any death certificate where doctors have written in the recent past that the end came due to starvation.

He compared the death rate in Bengal and India as a whole, and said the deaths were due to natural causes.

Ghatak’s remarks followed claims by rights organisations, trade unions and opposition parties that the tea gardens were going through a crisis.

On Tuesday itself, the CPI-M claimed workers of closed and crisis-ridden tea gardens in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts were dying due to “starvation, semi-starvation and lack of treatment”.

“Seventeen deaths have been reported in December alone so far,” the CPI-M state committee said in a statement.

A 18-member international team — Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRtFN) — comprising representatives of nine countries toured the north Bengal and Assam tea gardens from November 27 to December 4 and referred to the extremely low wages and precarious working conditions of labourers there.

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