Guwahati, March 31: The Assam Tea Plantation Security Force (ATPSF) could soon find itself guarding oil installations instead of tea gardens.
Minister of state for home Rockybul Hussain said in the Assembly today that the Indian Tea Association (ITA) had informed Dispur about the inability of its cash-strapped member gardens to maintain the ATPSF.
Replying to a question from BJP legislator Rameswar Teli, the minister said the Congress government was planning to use the force to secure oil installations in the state, which are regarded as soft targets for militant outfits like the Ulfa.
He said Oil India Ltd (OIL) would not be disinclined to accept the proposal, given its insecurity following the Ulfa attack on a massive storage tank at the Digboi Refinery early this month and the attempted strike on another oil installation in Tinsukia on Saturday.
The Ulfa has announced that it is out to “avenge the economic exploitation of Assam since the days of the British Raj” and warned of similar attacks in the run-up to its “raising day” on April 7.
In accordance with the memorandum of understanding between the government and the ITA, its member gardens have to bear the expenses of the ATPSF. However, the services of members of the force have not been confirmed even after nearly a decade of its existence.
The ATPSF, formed in 1995, has 650 trained personnel. It was raised exclusively for the protection of tea garden executives and other employees when militant outfits began targeting them. The cost of hiring a unit of the force is Rs 6 lakh a year. Nearly 100 of the 800-odd tea gardens in the state have enlisted the services of the force.
The ATPSF is under the operational command of the district superintendents of police, while the administrative duties have been assigned to the director-general of home guards and civil defence. The monthly pay of the personnel is arranged for by the gardens where they are deployed.
As the state government focused on security at oil installations, the army foiled an attempt by suspected Ulfa militants to blow up a rail track at Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar district of Lower Assam. An improvised explosive device weighing about six kg was recovered from the site.