Elizabeth Kheria, Bharati Kishan, Rajesh Dhanowar and Anjana Lagun, all labourers at Belsiri tea estate near Dhekiajuli in Assam, have been sharing what they would never have thought possible before — their weekly wages clubbed into a single currency note. “The four of us together got Rs 2,172 for the week, which included a Rs 2,000 note. We went to the grocery shop and bought our respective groceries with that note,” said Dhanowar. The four then divided the change.
“After Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes wee withdrawn, there were so many rumours that we were scared initially,” Dhanowar said. “But our management announced that the government would give enough cash for us, though that would include the Rs 2,000 note.”
“We were initially worried about what we should do with the shared Rs 2,000 note. But the management suggested that four of us could shop together from the grocer,” said Mukti Kishan, another worker who shared his weekly wage with three others.
Assam’s four lakh-odd tea plantation workers get a minimum daily wage of Rs 126, which most companies pay weekly and some twice a month.
On Monday, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal directed all banks to ensure each tea worker has an account to enable timely disbursal of wages. At a meeting with bank and tea executives in Guwahati, Sonowal also directed bank authorities to open enough ATMs and send out mobile vans. “Banks must put up a system to ensure the tea garden economy and network don’t suffer due to non-availability of funds for wages. No tea garden worker should be without a bank account,” Sonowal said at the meeting.
The industry praised the government for the way it has handled the situation. “The chief minister asked all tea companies to transfer their wage sums to a government account in SBI,” Sandip Ghosh, secretary of Assam Branch Indian Tea Association (ABITA), said in Guwahati. More than half of Assam’s 850-plus tea estates are affiliated to ABITA.
“We got all tea estates of our district to transfer their weekly wage amounts to any of our SBI accounts. We then drew the cash
and handed them over to various estates,” said Manoj Kumar Deka, deputy commissioner of Sonitpur, which has 39 tea estates. This practice is being followed in all districts.