Relief for workers only if shut tea gardens open: Antony

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Idukki, Nov 11 (UNI) Defence Minister A K Antony today said the problems of workers of closed tea gardens in Kerala would be resolved only if the gardens were reopened.

Addressing a gathering after handing over a relief cheque of Rs 42 lakh, for the workers of closed tea gardens, to District Collector Ashok Kumar Sinha here, Mr Antony said ''disbursement of Rs 1,000 each to the workers of closed tea gardens was only an interim relief. Permanent relief would be achieved only after reopening all the closed tea gardens in the state.'' Mr Antony said out of the 17 closed tea gardens in the state, ten were reopened and one was later closed.

He said both the Centre and state were working together to reopen the closed tea gardens.

Referring to the agriculture package for the state, Mr Antony said ''we are awaiting Dr Swaminathan's report to rejuvenate the agriculture sector in Kerala.'' He said the Centre and state should ensure that all welfare funds for the workers and farmers reach the deserving people.

''The Centre is contemplating to provide agricultural debt relief. Once the decision is taken, both the Centre and state will initiate steps to do the needful,'' he added.

Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said a total of Rs 47 lakh would be given to 4,664 workers of the eight closed tea gardens in Kerala.

He said the scenario in the state was better as only eight tea gardens remained closed out of the total 158 gardens.

However, he warned that if the closed tea gardens were not reopened within three months, Section 16 (E) of the Tea Act, 1953 would be invoked on the erring tea gardens.

Mr Ramesh reiterated that the 'Special Purpose Tea Fund' would be implemented in Kerala and Tamil Nadu by next month.

'' The Centre has approved the Pepper Replantation Programme for Kerala, whereby 20,000 hectares per year will be covered in the next ten years,'' Mr Ramesh said.

The Centre would spend Rs 30 crore per year under the National Horticulture Mission, which would be most beneficial for Idukki and Wayanad districts, he added.

UNI

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