The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Magic pill for tea belt woes
- Dispur sees solution in employment

Guwahati, March 26: Propounding a “social chaos theory” that identifies unemployment as the reason for frequent unrest in the tea belt, the Tarun Gogoi government has begun working on a strategy to rectify the problem with the help of the private and public sector.

The special scheme envisages helping at least 200 youths from the tea tribes every year to find a livelihood. A source in the chief minister's office said the plan — in the final stage of preparation — was definitely an improvement over previous such schemes.

The basic idea is to arrange for four months of training for the beneficiaries and provide a working capital of between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 each. The oil, tea and coal industries will be involved in the scheme, primarily in terms of providing business opportunities to the beneficiaries once they are trained.

Since the scheme will be beneficial to local industries, too, the government will write to them to offer “market support”. Companies will be provided a list of beneficiaries hailing from the districts in which they operate and requested to support small businesses, sources said.

Some of the self-employment avenues identified for two groups of beneficiaries — below matric and minimum matric pass — are as mechanics, electricians, carpenters, tailors and plumbers. Some will be trained in screen printing, book-binding, rubber stamp-making, manufacture of cement products, steel fabrication, desktop publishing and Internet services, as well as car painting.

“We are focusing on only those avenues for self-employment that the beneficiaries can handle, and for which there is a local market. Selection will be based on annual income, academic qualification and number of earning members in a family,” the source said.

Cloaked in the government’s concern for the aimlessness of youths from the tea tribes is the ruling Congress’s eagerness to win back the support of a community that was its electoral bulwark for decades until disenchantment set in.

The departments of planning and development, labour and employment and welfare of tea tribes have been asked to work on the special scheme with a sense of urgency that the situation demands. The official directive to these departments mentions that “urgent, instant and drastic steps” are required to avoid social chaos in the tea belt.

Labour and employment minister Prithibi Majhi, who represents the tea community, said it was “too early” to give details. He only said that steps were being taken “to improve the delivery mechanism, implement schemes better and prevent overlapping”.

The chief minister said in Dibrugarh yesterday that a slew of measures for the welfare of the tea tribes was in the offing. He pointed to the budgetary allocation for these schemes — up from Rs 10 crore to Rs 23 crore — as a measure of his government’s sincerity of purpose.

In the Assembly, Majhi today put up a spirited defence of the government’s welfare policy for the tea tribes while refuting allegations about starvation deaths in parts of the tea belt. He said the government was aware that minimum wages were being paid to workers of all tea estates where starvation death have allegedly taken place.

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