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Explained: Significance of Assam govt increasing daily wage of tea garden workers

The Assam government has increased the wages of tea garden workers from Rs 167 to Rs 217. Why is this announcement important? Why is the tea garden community important in Assam?

Written by Abhishek Saha , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: February 22, 2021 11:48:14 am
A tea garden worker in Assam (Express Photo/File)

On Saturday, the Assam government increased the wages of tea garden workers from Rs 167 to Rs 217, coming on the heels of a long-standing demand of the community for an increase and political promises for the same.

What is the latest government announcement?

The Assam government announced that the wage of tea garden workers will be increased from Rs 167 to Rs 217 per day. Moreover, for equal wages of small tea workers, a one-man committee under Principal Secretary Dr JB Ekka will be formed.

Why is the tea garden community important in Assam?

Coming ahead of the state elections, the announcement is important because the tea tribe community — comprising 17% of the state’s population — is a deciding factor in almost 40 Assam Assembly seats out of the 126.

The community is spread over in 800 tea gardens plus several unorganised small gardens of Assam. It is marked by exploitation, economic backwardness, poor health conditions and low literacy rates. The BJP has a strong voter base in the community now, overcoming an earlier Congress stronghold. Senior politicians say the community’s voter turnout is high and point out that the election day is a paid leave.

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Why is the announcement important?

Increasing wages of tea garden workers has been a major demand of the community and a poll plank as well. Although the tea garden managements pay the wages, the government fixes it. Last Sunday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a rally in the state that the party will ensure a Rs 365 per day wage to tea garden workers of Assam if elected to power.

In 2017, the Assam government formed an advisory board to fix minimum wages of tea workers — the board recommended an amount of Rs 351. The next year, as an interim measure, the Assam government hiked daily wages from Rs 137 to Rs 167. In 2019, a one-man committee, headed by former chief secretary of Assam Kumar Sanjay Krishna, recommended that the cash component of the wages be hiked to around Rs 195, which including perks could go up to an amount around Rs 226.

Paban Singh Ghatowar, a most influential tea tribe leader, five-time Congress MP from Dibrugarh and former Union minister, told The Indian Express on Sunday, “During 2016 elections, the BJP had promised to increase the wages to Rs 351. Now they are increasing by Rs 50 only because of the elections. They think they can dole out money and buy votes of the garden community. Are one-time financial benefit schemes enough for the welfare of a community?”

“But yes, it has to be accepted that the BJP-RSS has penetrated into the community in a major way, overriding the Congress’s influence,” Ghatowar added.

GS Barhoi, the Golaghat district secretary of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the influential body which has been negotiating with the government on the issue, told The Indian Express, “What can Rs 50 even buy today? Can you buy onions properly? We are not happy with the Rs 50 hike and stick to our demand of Rs 351. There is a proper analysis, considering different costs, through which the figure of 351 was reached at.”

How has the Assam government been focused on the community?

The electorally important community has been the focus of several welfare schemes launched by the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government. Recently, Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the Assembly while delivering his Vote on Account speech, “Today 7.3 lakh bank accounts of tea garden workers have been opened through our initiatives. Further, to ensure that these accounts do not go dormant, we have introduced the Assam Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Yojana using Direct Benefit Transfer.”

“Through this direct route of reaching the beneficiaries, and with the support of banks, we have released Rs.3,82.41 crore in phase 1 and phase 2 to all eligible tea tribe community members, in two installments of Rs.2,500 each. Around 7.5 Lakh beneficiaries have received these amounts into their accounts. Furthermore, Rs.231.14 crore have been transferred in a third tranche of Rs.3000 each,” Sarma added.

In the Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, Rs 1,000 crore was announced for the welfare of tea workers in Assam and West Bengal.

Earlier this month, addressing a public event in Assam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that no one could appreciate the special taste of Assam tea more than him. He said that he always considered the development of Assam and Assam’s tea garden workers togethers.

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