Houses of all BJP MPs and MLAs in West Bengal will be gheraoed if provident fund and gratuity benefits are not provided to over 3 lakh tea garden workers in the state by the end of this year, senior TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee said on Sunday.
Addressing a rally of tea workers in Jalpaiguri district’s Malbazar, Banerjee asked the party’s trade union to start a protest programme demanding PF and gratuity from Monday itself and lodge police complaints against tea garden owners who refuse to provide these benefits.
“BJP leaders are like migratory birds, they come before the elections, make big promises and fly out after the elections without fulfilling those. The Centre promised to take over seven closed tea gardens but did nothing, while the TMC government in the state ensured that all closed tea gardens become operational once again,” he said.
“Though Narendra Modi was a tea seller, he did nothing for the tea garden workers. Providing PF and gratuity benefits are the responsibilities of the Centre. I ask you all to start protesting on the issue from tomorrow itself. File police complaints against tea garden owners who refuse to provide these. And if the issues are not addressed by the end of this year, then houses of BJP MLAs and MPs will be gheraoed from January,” he added.
Banerjee, a Lok Sabha MP and the nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, promised the tea workers that the state will set up 31 creches for their children in the next six months, primary health centres, and provide them with clean drinking water and land rights.
“The basic wage was Rs 67 during the Left rule in the state and it has now been increased to Rs 232. The new wage will be implemented in the next three months,” he said, noting that he will take the demands of the tea garden workers to Delhi.
The announcements by Banerjee, the TMC’s national general secretary, are being seen as a bid to wrest the tea belt of the state from the BJP, which won all the seats in the region in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and continued the streak by winning the most number of seats in last year’s assembly election.
Asserting that his party will fight against all moves to divide the state, Banerjee said he was also against terms such as ‘north Bengal’ and ‘south Bengal’.
“There are talks about carving out Coochbehar with parts of sub-Himalayan West Bengal to create a separate state or territory. We will not allow that,” he said.
“TMC will fiercely oppose any attempt to create a separate state. Even I am opposed to casually referring to the region as north Bengal, and districts in the southern region as south Bengal. Why such terms?” he asked.
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Banerjee also hit out at the BJP, alleging “misuse” of ED and CBI to harass its political opponents.
“(Law minister) Moloy Ghatak’s house was raided but only Rs 14,000 in cash could be found. Why people who looted crores of rupees of public money and provided shelter by the BJP are being spared?” he asked.
On speculation of his “new Trinamool Congress”, Banerjee said he never meant that the party will get rid of old-timers.
“I meant we will continue to reflect the aspirations of people and voice their wishes. We will fix mistakes if any during the journey,” he explained.
“If anyone commits any wrong, if anyone cheats people, the party will not stand by him. Remember that TMC took action against such offenders,” he claimed.
The BJP said it was not giving much importance to Banerjee’s rally, claiming that the people of the state have already turned their faces away from the TMC.
“His rally will not cut much ice as people of Bengal have turned away from the TMC. Also, let me ask why he did not care about the condition of tea gardens all these years. The Modi government and our party MPs are doing everything to improve their condition,” BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.