Baikunthapur tea workers request food aid from govt
Workers of Baikunthapur tea garden in Habiganj, who have been facing a food crisis due to denial of wages for the last 15 weeks, yesterday requested a food aid from the government.
Workers' leaders of the 24 tea gardens in the district sat together and made the appeal as the tea estate owner failed to keep his promise to pay the 400 workers on Thursday, the weekly pay day.
A food crisis hit around 2,400 people, including the workers and their family members, since Baikunthapur Tea Estate in Madhabpur upazila stopped paying in May.
Many families are surviving on liquid extract from boiled rice and mashed tea leaves and chili peppers.
However, the estate authorities continue receiving their labour as the plucking season is ongoing.
Monib Karmakar, 36, general secretary of the Baikunthapur Tea Estate unit of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, said he had been borrowing money to maintain his eight-member family. "I have run into huge debts...we are being forced to starve."
He said, "People are passing their days unfed or half-fed; some have fallen sick. If the problem persists, people will die. We have been trying to reach out to the authorities but failed. Now we want food from the government."
The estate owner, Prodip Kumar Mukharjee, did not respond to phone calls from this correspondent.
However, an administrative staff of the garden, Subrata Datta Chowdhury, told The Daily Star that the owner could not pay them because the company was "incurring losses due to a fall in tea production".
Rashedul Islam, upazila nirbahi officer of Madhabpur, said, "We have met workers' leaders and plantation owners on several occasions, but the owners didn't keep their promises."
He said the administration had supplied rice and lentils to the starving families as an emergency aid.
The 384-hectare estate was set up in 1915. The current lease owner, Prodip Kumar Mukharjee, also managing director of the company, has been running the estate since 1983.