West Bengal labour department's tea garden survey kept under wraps

Excerpts and recommendations from the unpublished survey report of all tea gardens in the state that reveals miserable living conditions of workers estate-wise

By Sayantan Bera
Published: Tuesday 01 April 2014

89 year old Dhiru Kujur who has worked in Bundapani tea estate (a closed tea estate in northern West Bengal) for over 65 years cannot remember the last time he had a full meal (photo by Sayantan Bera)

An exhaustive survey of all the 273 tea estates in West Bengal has thrown up damning numbers on mismanagement and deplorable labour welfare situation. The survey, initiated by state labour minister Purnendu Basu, began in late 2012 and a synopsis report was prepared in May 2013. For reasons unknown, the state’s labour department has been sitting on the report ever since. It is unlikely to be published before the general elections, for the findings could be a political hot potato. Since wage negotiations are going on now, the poor labour welfare statistics would have bolstered the workers' demand for higher wages.

More than 1.1 million people live in the tea estates of northern West Bengal, spread over Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts. In closed estates, more than a 1,000 lives have been lost to starvation since 2002. Pitifully low wages have created an environment of destitution, which is unwarranted when domestic demand for tea is soaring and retail brands are commanding high prices in the market. Orthodox organic tea varieties from the prized gardens of Darjeeling are mostly exported at prices estate owners do not want to reveal.

Owners say, cash wages of Rs 95 per day are justified for they spend on "in-kind benefits" like housing and medical facilities that are statutory requirements under the Plantation Labour Act of 1951 (compare this to daily wages in Kerala plantations at Rs 225 per day plus the statutory benefits or Rs 151 per day in case of employment guarantee scheme, MGNREGS). The survey shows that housing and medical facilities are in a shambles.  Financial mismanagement is rife—many estates are not depositing the provident fund contribution deducted from workers wages, a criminal offence.

Down To Earth has obtained a copy of the entire survey. We present below excerpts from the report, including a set of recommendations. Some explanatory notes are given in parenthesis.

Management and ownership

87 tea estates could not produce/provide Registration Certificate/Number under Plantation Labour Act, 1951. 5  tea estates could not provide registration number granted by Tea Board of India. 185  tea estates could not provide Certified Standing Orders under Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.

116  tea estates have been run by different management in last 10 years. Some of these estates suffer a lot in respect of development and sustainability. Some of the estates are run by the promoters who hardly care for long-term development planning.

A  tea estate is run by managerial executives. They are responsible for the smooth and efficient functioning of tea estates to maintain desired development, industrial peace and harmony. 188 Tea Estates have managers who are graduates and have no professional or technical diploma/degree in tea.

There is no labour welfare officer in 175  tea estates.

Provident Fund and wage dues

24  tea estates did not deposit any amount towards Provident Fund contribution in 2009-10. 41  tea estates did not deposit any amount towards Provident Fund contribution in 2012-13.

In 46  tea estates, total dues of Provident Fund on the part of workers’ contribution is Rs 17,14,02,978. In 55  tea estates total due of Provdent Fund on the part of managements’ contribution is Rs 33,79,11,088. 22  tea estates did not pay gratuity to any workmen in last four years (2009-10 to 2012-13)

8  tea estates have wages due to be paid to the workmen. 35  tea estates have ration due to be disbursed to the workmen.

The workmen of 35  tea estates are yet to be paid arrear wages as per last wage settlement. Workmen of two tea estates are not paid their wages as per existing agreement.


50 tea estates produce exclusively organic tea. 210  tea estates produce normal tea (with chemical fertilisers and pesticides). 13  tea estates both organic and normal tea.

The standard average yield of tea estates in hill area (Darjeeling) should be 500 Kg/ha or more but only 34 tea estates out of 81 have yield 500 Kg/ha or more.

The standard average yield of tea estates in Terai region should be 1,900 Kg/ ha or more but only 14  tea estates out of 45 have yield of 1,900 Kg/ ha or more.

The standard average yield of tea estates in Dooars area should be 2,000 Kg/ ha or more but only 40 out of 150 tea estates have yield of 2,000 kg/ ha or more. 10  tea estates have very good yield of 2,500 kg/ ha or more.

(Yield is low as tea bushes are old and several estates lack long-term intiatives like replantation drives)

Population in tea estates

1,86,559 families reside in the tea estates of hills, Terai and Dooars areas of North Bengal.

Tea estates of hills, Terai and Dooars have population of 11,24,907.

There are 2, 62,426 permanent workmen engaged by 273 tea estates of hills, Terai and Dooars region.

Financial support and lease

84  tea estates get support of SGRY/ MGNREGS (Centrally sponsored employment guarantee schemes).

165 tea estates have availed bank finance. 14  tea estates did not provide the name of bank from where they are getting finance.

Lease of 114  tea estates have expired. Out of 114, 105 have applied for the renewal of lease.

Housing and other facilities

1,66,591 workmen out of 2,62,426 have been provided houses. It means 95,835 workmen are yet to be provided houses.

6 tea estates (3 in hills & 3 in Dooars) have not provided even a single house to their workers.

There are 51  tea estates who could not provide houses to 50 per cent or more workmen. The workmen of 10 tea estates are the worst sufferers as near 20 per cent of them could not be provided their houses.

In 2009, 53 tea estates did not spend a single penny on housing. In 2012, 62  tea estates did not spend a single penny.

37 Tea estates did not spend a single penny (on housing) during last four years (2009 to 2012).

In last 4 years, from 2009 to 2012, employers have spent Rs 59,49,08,112 towards construction of new houses repairing and maintenance. By calculating average cost per annum per worker, it was found that an amount of Rs 893 has been incurred on the subject for each workman per annum which seems to be very nominal. The permanent workmen have been considered as industrial workers and they have been listed as above poverty line (APL). They are not eligible for Indira Awas Yojana (IAY).

44  tea estates do not have any latrines. Houses in 12 tea estates in Dooars are under complete darkness (no electricity connection).

The workers of  tea estates suffer badly for supply of drinking water, both in quality and quantity. The tea estates of hill areas in  Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong sub division have severe scarcity of drinking water. Natural spring water and Jhora are only sources of water. Most of the tea estates of hill areas does not properly distribute the sources through pipelines.

Health and medical facilities

Out of 273 tea estates, only 166 have hospitals. Out of these 166, only 56  tea estates have full time residential doctors. Other 110 tea estates' hospitals depend on visiting doctors. Among doctors of 166  tea estates, only 74 doctors have degree of MBBS, others are non- MBBS. Out of 166 tea estates having hospitals, 116 do not have any nurse.

107  tea estates (hills -64, Terai- 20 and Dooars-23) do not have any hospital. Out of 273 tea estates, 85 do not have any dispensary. Ten tea estates have neither hospital nor dispensary.

Out of 273 tea estates, primary health centres (PHCs) exist in only 160, 113 tea estates (hills-38. Terai-23 and Dooars-52) do not have any PHC. Out of 273 tea estates, 160 provide ambulance. Many of these ambulances are not up to the standard.

Recommendations based on the findings of survey

Plantation Labour Act, 1951: As 87 tea estates could not produce/provide registration certificate/registration number under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, and since most of regional labour offices do not have proper record of registration under the Act, a fresh drive of de novo registration may be undertaken.

Industrial Employment Standing Orders Act, 1946: One DLC posted at Kolkata functions as certifying officer under Standing Orders under Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. DLC, Jalpaiguri, and DLC, Siliguri may also be delegated the power of certifying officer so that the provision of this Act should be implemented in respect of tea estates of North Bengal.

Operating trade unions: In industry-wise meeting, 37 trade unions are invited but as per survey only 22 trade unions exist. Drop inviting other 15 trade unions who do not exist after maintaining procedure of the Trade Unions Act, 1926

Area, plantation and yield: Most of the tea estates have maximum old bushes of tea, resulting in low yield. Efforts are required to be taken for maximum uprooting and replanting for better yield.

Workmen: sub-staff & staff: In most of the tea estates, sub-staff and staff have been engaged in much lesser numbers in comparison to the number of daily rated workmen. There should be uniform ratio scale in respect of engaging the three categories of workmen for better management.

Housing in tea estates: In spite of being industrial workers, the tea garden workers get the wages lower than in any other employment, and is highly insufficient. Workers be made eligible for IAY scheme by making the required exceptional provision in the scheme, the remaining 96,892 workers may be provided houses under IAY scheme or any other housing scheme.

Cost factor: As per provision of P.L Act, 1951 the employer is responsible for providing house and repairing and maintenance thereof for their workmen. The employer already incurs expenses on this subject in whatever quantum may be. “Workmen Housing Cess” may be imposed on the employer according to number of their workmen or according to production of tea (Per Kg). The cess to be collected may afford the recurring cost for repairing and maintenance of houses.

Electricity: Rural electrification Scheme should be provided to the houses of Twelve Tea Estates which are under complete darkness.

Drinking water: In Terai and Dooars more number of Deep Tube wells is required. The workmen may be supplied drinking water through a good numbers of taps provided at cluster points in labour lines. The Tea Board of India may support the supply of drinking water as per Labour Welfare Scheme under HRD Schemes for twelfth five year plan.

Health facilities:
Group Hospitals may be provided to the workmen of tea estates in the following manner:
In every Sub- Division I,e Alipur, Malbazar, Jalpaiguri, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong Central Group Hospitals may be constructed and run in such a way that one Central Group Hospital may be utilized by the workmen of nearby Group Hospital tea estates.

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