Mamata government’s apathy turning closed tea estates into Somalia: Congress

Kolkata, Oct 30 (IANS) In the wake of alleged hunger deaths in a northern West Bengal tea estate, the Congress on Friday blamed the apathy by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government for the region turning into “famine struck Somalia”.

“The Mamata Banerjee government’s apathy towards the closed and abandoned tea estates in the north Bengal has turned the region into Somalia. There is procession of deaths, people have no food, no water, no basic amenities,” said state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

“The tea estate owners are happy to warm the pockets of those in power and denying wages to workers. The situation is so precarious that women and children are steadily falling prey to trafficking,” he added.

At least 10 deaths including one on Friday have been reported from Bagrakote tea estate in Malbazar of Jalpaiguri district in the last few months. The garden was abandoned by the management in February this year, leaving nearly 1,500 workers and their families helpless.

The government though has denied the deaths were due to malnutrition or starvation.

Chowdhury, who earlier raised the issue of the closed tea estates in parliament, asserted his party will support theTrinamool Congress if it was willing to demand the central government’s intervention in the matter.

“The Mamata government must raise the issue with the centre. Otherwise this death procession will continue unabated. If this government is willing to demand the centre’s immediate intervention in this matter, we are ready to join them in this bid,” he said.

North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb, however, attributed the deaths to illness and ruled out malnutrition or starvation.

In September, Right to Food and Work Campaign (RFWC)- a network of organisations and activists – had submitted a report to Chief Minister Banerjee claiming that the closed and abandoned tea estates in the state were fast becoming a major humanitarian crisis with a population of over 75,000 dependents of the tea gardens “forced to live in near starvation”.

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