Report Highlights Poor Healthcare in Assam’s Tea Estates

JORHAT, Assam, India

The Cinnamara Tea Estate Hospital, recently roped off by the government, under the National Rural Health Mission, as the tea estate authorities had failed to adequately maintain and run it. Photo by Pullock Dutta.

India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said that tea estate areas in Assam lack proper healthcare facilities and revealed that 37.69 percent of the maternal deaths reported during 2013–14 and 2015–16 were from tea garden areas. In India, the CAG enjoys the same status as a judge of the Supreme Court of India.

A new CAG report states that districts having a higher tea garden population in Assam contribute to the higher maternal mortality rate (MMR). It also states that an in-patient department (IPD) is not available in 45 percent of tea garden hospitals and a functional labor room is not available in 54 percent of the tea garden hospitals.

A “functional newborn care center was not available in 82 percent of garden hospitals in Assam, while 78 percent of garden hospitals did not have laboratory service. Doctors were not available in 38 percent of the garden hospitals,” the report states.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of Assam covered only 150 tea estate (TE) hospitals from 2015–16, thus depriving the populace from benefiting from government programs at the remaining 643 TEs, the report stated.

Malnourished children and their poor living quarters at Cinnamara Tea Estate. Photo by Pullock Dutta.

Moreover, in the six text-checked blocks of select districts of tea-rich upper Assam having a significant tea garden population, only 57 out of 82 TEs had hospitals, of which only 17 were operating under private public participation (PPP) mode with the NRHM. As per the Annual Programme Implementation Plan 2016–17, there were altogether 793 TEs in Assam.

According to another survey report of 2014–15, conducted by the Regional Resource Centre for North Eastern States of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, 649 TEs had hospitals run by the TE management, but the status of healthcare in those TE hospitals was unsatisfactory, the CAG stated.

A physically handicapped tea garden laborer on way to the hospital with his son at Cinnamara Tea Estate in Assam. Photo by Pullock Dutta.

According to the Annual Health Survey 2012–13, the MMR in upper Assam (inclusive of tea garden areas) was 404 against the state’s MMR of 301. The CAG had brought the matter to the notice of the government, but a reply was not received from the latter.

A few months ago, authorities in Assam launched mobile medical unit services for tea laborers in 320 gardens in 12 districts of the state. The union minister for health and family welfare JP Nadda, who inaugurated the service, said: “For 70 years, the basic needs of the garden population in terms of healthcare has been overlooked. Assam is among the highest tea growing states in the country and yet look at the status of its workers. The number of medical units will be increased if the scheme becomes successful.”

The Supreme Court of India last month also pulled up management of 25 tea gardens in Assam for non-implementation of various provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 that was enacted to ensure welfare of the tea community. The apex court had asked the Assam government to file an affidavit on actual status of implementation of the Plantation Labour Act in tea gardens. The tea industry in Assam has always been under fire from various quarters over alleged non-implementation of the Plantation Labour Act.

Former three-time chief minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi had even warned the tea garden managements that the government would be forced to take punitive actions against them if they did not implement the Plantation Labour Act in letter and spirit.