For ex-Peermade Tea Company workers, an own house remains a distant dream
The leaking roofs and collapsing walls of the estate quarters in division two of the Peermade Tea Company (PTC), where the family now stays, had become too much to bear.
Published: 02nd January 2023 07:51 AM | Last Updated: 02nd January 2023 07:51 AM | A+A A-
IDUKKI: When the government provided five cents of land in Nine Acre, near Upputhara, a few years ago, as part of its mission to ensure land and housing, tea worker Lakshmi Balaraman and her family were overjoyed. It seemed like their dream of owning a secure house of their own was about to be realised. The leaking roofs and collapsing walls of the estate quarters in division two of the Peermade Tea Company (PTC), where the family now stays, had become too much to bear.
However, when the fund was sanctioned for constructing a house on the allotted land, Lakshmi, 56, refused it. The money wasn’t enough to meet even the transportation cost of construction materials to the plot, which is located on a hill that lacks proper road connectivity.
When PTC wound up operations on December 13, 2000, leaving more than 1,300 workers and their families in the lurch, the government’s efforts to provide land and housing to the families through various schemes, including ‘Zero Landless’ and ‘Life Mission’, came as a relief.
However, the plots identified were on hilly tracts, in areas such as Sathram and Nine Acre, with poor road connectivity. As a result, those workers who had money saved bought new land and built houses. However, for workers like Lakshmi, a house still remained a mirage.
After the closure of PTC 22 years ago, following which its owner abandoned them, the workers have been earning their livelihood through the sale of leaves they pluck from tea bushes -- restricted to 1,200 bushes per worker -- allotted by unions, which virtually manage the estate now.
“The Rs 5,000 we earn monthly through the sale of leaves is scarcely enough to meet the expense of a family. There is no question of saving money to buy a plot,” Lakshmi said. Minister for Finance K M Balagopal, who had visited Peermade in connection with a sub-treasury inauguration last July, had announced Rs 10 crore for the repair and maintenance of estate lanes in Peermade taluk.
“However despite the announcements, the government is yet to allot funds,” said Guinness Madasamy, a resident who had filed petitions with the finance department for information on the status of the allocated funds. He said the file is still being processed by the budget wing of the department. “If the proceedings are speeded up and the funds allotted, that would greatly benefit plantation workers,” he said.
Martin Jeevaraj, who has served as a plantation inspector and deputy labour officer in Idukki, said there is excess land recovered from plantations in Peermade by the land board or the forest department. “If this is identified and assigned to eligible families on priority, the workers can build houses with government support,” he said.
Former Peermade tahsildar and executive magistrate Vijayalal K S told TNIE that even though many plantations have excess land, these have not been properly ascertained and taken over by the government, and are still in possession of plantation owners.
“Although there exists the possibility of distributing excess lands to workers, the decision regarding the recovery of excess land in plantations should be taken by the taluk land board with the deputy collector as its chairman,” he said.