Apart from monitoring the health of 750,000-odd tea workers in the estates, the government has decided to temporarily take over estate hospitals, creches and club houses in the tea gardens. Additionally, each of the estates will be provided with Rs 5,000 to sensitise the workers and officials about Covid-19.
According to industry officials, the state government will be taking over control and management of all hospitals and dispensaries in the tea estates to monitor any cases of the viral infection. The state administration feels that the step is necessary for more efficient supervision and will improve coordination with the district administration.
Creche and club houses will be taken over to avoid any congregation and can be transformed into isolation zones if the situation so demands. Any resident or visitor with fever other than symptoms has been ordered to be quarantined inside the tea estates for 14 days. In case the situation so demands, the state government, through its control of the estate hospitals will take necessary action.
Estate managements have also been ordered to maintain close co-ordination with the district management. Estate owners are of the view that such measures will help boost confidence among the workforce as well as help estates mitigate Covid-19 risks to the best way possible.
Despite orders of a near shutdown in certain locations, tea estates have been kept operational.
The plucking season in Assam and West Bengal starts in mid-March and lasts till November-end.
Usually referred to as the tea-pot of India, Assam produces around 50 per cent of the total tea in the country which stood at around 1390 million kg in 2019.
Industry officials reasoned that the very isolated nature of gardens minimises contagion risks.
“The estates are mostly in remote locations and hardly anyone enters or leaves the gardens. This very nature of isolation puts them at lower risks than crowded places,” a planter from Assam said.
Nevertheless, pluckers have been ordered to maintain a distance of three metres from each other, hand sanitisers and soap have been made available across estates and tea factories and workers are being advised to maintain social distancing.
“We have been increasing awareness about the virus in our estates. Steps have been taken to prevent outbreak”, another estate owner said.
Workers have ben ordered not to venture outside estate premises and a detailed log book on visitors, citing their travel history and other related information is being maintained. This log-book is being shared with the district administration on a daily basis.
However, estate owners cited that owing to the global outbreak of the virus and extremely restricted travel, outsiders have not been visiting the estates.
“There will be demand for tea no matter how the global situation is owing to the virus. As the threat of the virus recedes, we need to be prepared to meet the demand globally as well as in the country. The plucking may not stop if necessary stringent measures are enforced to contain spread of Covid-19”, an industry official said wishing not to be named.
On the other hand, as a proactive measure, the Kheta Group-owned Rungajaun Tea Estate has decided to suspend operations with full pay to its staff to prevent any spread of the virus. It has around 1,000 workers and another 100 office staff.
Other estate officials said decisions over closure can be taken depending on how the situation unfolds and how the workers respond to precautionary measures like maintaining social distancing and personal hygiene.
Steps taken in tea estates in Assam
- Rs 5,000 grant to each estate to create Covid-19 awareness among employees
- State govt takes over control of hospitals, creche and club houses in estates
- Schools in tea estates shut down
- Managements ordered to maintain abundant hand sanitisers and soap
- Workers advised not to leave tea estates
- Detailed log-book of outsiders to be maintained in all tea estates