With the Agricultural Production Commissioner and Principal Secretary to Tamil Nadu Government Gagandeep Singh Bedi clarifying that “tea cultivation and all associated activities could be permitted as tea cultivation is an agricultural activity, and tea a food item and an essential commodity,” select estates in the Nilgiris resumed operations on Tuesday while a few others have indicated their intention to start from Wednesday.

And with the district administration giving the nod for processing, production and other associated activities, subject to strict compliance of norms and Covid-19 precautionary measures, the hill district saw some life after week-long silence.

Nilgiris District Collector Innocent Divya has, in passing the order, stated that minimum number of workers could be employed, subject to obtaining the individual’s consent, ensuring complete safety, providing adequate protective gear, checking medical fitness before starting work, ensuring social distancing, spraying disinfectant in labour lines, making arrangements for transportation of workers to factories, furnishing a list of transport and workers for issuance of curfew pass and having adequate sanitising points for workers from time of entry to departure after shift.

“Plantations are adhering only to the documentation part of the guidelines,” said a source, preferring anonymity, .

A cross section of industry stakeholders to whom BusinessLine spoke said they saw normalcy in daily life coming back, but also understand the risk they (both the employees and the management) are taking in venturing out.

Though at the time of filing this report workers who had reported for work could not be contacted, it is learnt that their near and dear ones are not happy with the situation.

Catch 22

“We are now at a risk of contracting the virus; obviously, when asked to report for work by the employer, we cannot bluntly refuse, especially under the present circumstance when there is so much uncertainty about the future. We are poor people and can’t afford the luxury of turning down the offer,” said one labourer over phone.

It is further learnt that the estates are only engaging those that reside in the quarters provided by the respective corporates.

Those in the know of developments aver that most plantations do not have full-time medical officers.