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GJM put forward demands to improve working condition of Darjeeling tea workers
A 70 km uphill drive from the plains of Siliguri to the majestic hills of Darjeeling would reflect the number of tea plantations on either side of the road in huge numbers. It is these plantations along with the number of other such estates in the district, where tea pluckers toil day in and out to produce some of the best teas in the world. In return, these workers receive nothing special, but are on the other hand left to ponder about their next meal. They are one of the most underpaid tea plantation workers in India.

It is at this juncture that the political party in Darjeeling, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on labour day yesterday made some demands, which would help improve the living conditions of the tea workers in Darjeeling and Doars region. Let's look at these demands one by one.

1. Daily wages needs to be increased from Rs 95 to Rs 322

''The current wage for the plantation workers of Darjeeling is too low compared to the existing rate of various other places such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam etc. It needs to be increased,'' said Roshan Rai, employee with Darjeeling Prerna NGO, which works with farmers and tea growers. It is completely unfair, when tea plantation workers in Darjeeling receive less as compared to other tea workers in the country, especially,when Darjeeling Tea churns huge revenue for India.

There is temporary and permanent tea plantation workers in Darjeeling. Out of the total workers, only 20 percent tea plantation workers are permanent and surprisingly out of this 20 percent as well, 80 percent are daily wage earners. During the peak plucking season, it is the temporary workers, who are employed, who in turn are the most vulnerable as they too do not get decent wage for their efforts. Due to lack of wages, these workers struggle to run their family.

2. Indian Govt. needs to come up with a separate ministry for tea industry

It is more important that the tea industry needs to be looked into rather than creating a separate ministry for tea industry. The Indian government has a number of separate ministries for various purposes, but what guarantee does one give that setting up a separate ministry for tea industry could be a good choice and a solution as well.

It is imperative that the demands are met one by one, so this demand, if agreed should be the last one to be looked at. Firstly, it is the daily wage, which needs special attention, and the rest should follow.

3. Need to revise the outdated plantation labour act

As core part of the colonial economy, tea plantations were created to get maximum out of the workers. The Plantation Labour Act devised after the Indian independence looks after the conditions of tea workers. ''It is a 'colonial act, though it talks about improving the social securities as well,'' said Roshan Rai. He further came up with an important point and said that those who structured this act, none of them were tea plantation workers.

In order to meet with the present and the existing demands of the workers, not only in Darjeeling and Doars, but also other tea workers around India, there is a need to look into the act and bring about some necessary changes. The act, which came into force in 1951 is too outdated and fails to meet the demands of the current situation.

4. Land rights for tea garden labourers

For every permanent tea plantation worker, a house or land needs to be alloted. Problem arises when the house is under the company's name. Under such circumstances, what will these workers do, if the company suddenly wants to build another plantation destroying their houses? Granting land rights to tea garden labourers is an ideal solution.

5. Benefits for women tea plantation workers

Tea pluckers in Darjeeling and Doars work tirelessly throughout the day plucking leaves. Many of these workers are women, who get up early morning, cook for their family, dress their children to school, finish their household chores, after which they hustle their way to the tea plantation or estates, where they work. Sometimes, they are so caught up that they do not even get a chance to feed themselves. In spite of such hardships, they do not enjoy special benefits.

So, the party has demanded maternity benefits, setting up of special committee for the safety of women and children in all gardens, crèche, shade and toilet facilities, pensions and medical insurance.

This is not for the first time that such kind of demands have been made. Previously, trade unions also put up similar demands, but those demands did not see the light of the day. But, now with GJM making these demands, they need to get their act together and fight it out for those tea plantation workers, whose tea plucking hands have glorified the name of Darjeeling world over.

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