GUWAHATI: How serious is the State Government and tea estate managements on garden labourers’ health? Facts speak for themselves – 155 of the 434 tea estate hospitals of the State are without doctors.
According to the ‘Tea Plantation Labourers Act-1951’, all TEs should have doctors for the healthcare of their labourers. However, in Assam while 279 of the 434 tea estate hospitals are with doctors, as many as 155 are without any. While the responsibility of appointing doctors in tea estate hospitals lies with garden managements, the monitoring of the healthcare being provided to garden labourers is that of the Department of Labour.
There are other lapses as well. According to the Act, there should be health inspectors to monitor the health sector in tea estates. Accordingly, the Labour Commissioner, Assam, sanctioned eight posts of health inspectors for the tea estates in the State. However, at present there are only two health inspectors for tea gardens, and the remaining six posts have been lying vacant for six to ten years. In February 2018, the Department of Labour had communicated to the Department of Health and Family Welfare to fill up the vacant posts of health inspectors in the tea gardens. However, no measure has been taken towards that end as yet. It is the State Health Department that deputes its officers as health inspectors to the tea gardens.
Scarcity of medicines in the tea estate hospitals in the State has been chronic. The State government has started a free medicine scheme in tea estates, but the scarcity of medicines continues to exist. Thus the Health sector in the tea estates in Assam has been marred by hospitals without doctors and scarcity of medicines. The government also introduced its mobile medical units in the tea estates, but the services being extended are primary in nature. The State government is also not putting pressure on the garden managements for the appointment of doctors in their 155 hospitals that are without doctors. Of course, the Department of Labour did take action against 35 tea estates for violating the Tea Plantation Labourers Act last year.
According to sources, doctors are reluctant to go to the tea estates for a number of reasons: the salary in tea estates not being commensurate with other postings, lack of opportunities for private practice and security threat. In the recent past, a doctor was beaten to death in Teok Tea Estate. A section of doctors are also not ready to face the diktat of garden managers.
The moot point is: What’s the rationale behind running hospitals in tea estates without doctors? Can’t the problem be solved by the State Government and the tea estate managements by sitting across the table?