The Congress and BJP have been engaged in a row over discontinuing subsidy on ration supply to lakhs of tea plantation labourers of Assam, with both parties blaming each other for a major crisis that is likely to occur in the next few months.
While the Congress government in Assam has blamed the BJP-led government at the Centre, the BJP in turn has said that it was the previous Congress-led UPA government that had decided on withdrawing subsidy on ration to tea labourers in view of the Food Security Act.
The National Food Security Act has no provisions to allot Tea labourers in Assam and they have have been getting rice and wheat at a heavily subsidized price for the past six decades. While tea companies are currently lifting rice and wheat from FCI at Rs 8.30 and Rs 6.10 per kg respectively, the companies have been deducting only 50 paise per kg from the labourers, subsidizing the gap themselves apart from meeting the transportation charges. But since the National Food Security Act does not provide any separate allocation for tea labourers, the industry is heading for crisis, with political mud-slinging only adding fuel to fire.
“The Congress is responsible for discontinuance of subsidized ration once the NFS Act is implemented in Assam,” said Assam BJP unit president Siddhartha Bhattacharyya. The Congress however describes the BJP allegation as untrue. “The government of Assam, or for that matter the erstwhile UPA government had not stopped rations to the tea labourers,” said Assam industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi here on Thursday.
Congress MLA and AICC secretary Bhupen Bora went one step ahead and asked Rameswar Teli and Kamakhya Prasad Tasha – the two BJP MPs from Assam who come from the tea labourer community – to stage a dharna outside the prime minister’s office “if they are really worried”.
Tea labourers across Assam currently get a daily wage of Rs 94, apart from 35 kg rice per family unit at just 50 paise per kg. Once the NFS Act is implemented in Assam, they will be entitled to 20 kgs of rice at Rs 3 per kg. There are suggestions for monetizing the ration subsidy by paying Rs 14.20 per labourer per day, taking the daily wage up to Rs 108.20, but labour unions are not amused.
“Replacing it with concessions under the National Food Security Act would provide no solace for the tea workers because they would then be entitled to just 20 kg of rice a month against the 35 kg they are getting under the existing arrangements,” said Congrss MLA Pallab Lochan Das, who too comes from the tea labourer community.
Meanwhile, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday told industry chiefs here that providing ration to the labourers was the responsibility of the respective managements. “But despite that our government will try its best by taking up with the Centre to get subsidized ration for the labourers,” Gogoi said.
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