Silchar, Sept. 1: The tea industry and the Cachar Cha Sramik Union seem to be on the warpath, readying to bare their fangs over the annual ritual of fixing Puja bonus for the tea workers.
There are nearly one lakh tea workers in about 104 tea plantations in the Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi which together form the Cachar tea area.
According to tea industry sources here, the bonus will be fixed on the operating profit the gardens have reaped during the accounting year of 2008-09 when a majority of the tea estates in the Cachar tea belt had sailed through a period of halcyon days with the gardens producing CTC tea in record measures and gaining a robust margin of profits.
The bonus scenario this year is all set to take on a shrill note as the Cachar Cha Sramik Union, the only registered tea workers’ forum in the three Barak Valley districts, has demanded payment of bonus to the tea workers at the rate of 20 per cent across the board for the first time in the recent history of bonus bargaining in the tea belt.
The assistant general secretary of the union, D.N. Baroi, today said the union had pitched the bonus demand at 20 per cent considering the high margin of profits that the tea gardens here — producing the average quality of the CTC tea — had recorded during the last two fiscals.
Baroi said the union had decided to exempt small and marginal gardens from its ambit of bonus payment at the rate of 20 cent as these plantations could not make any headway. Some of these gardens, according to Baroi, are Binodenagar and Gambhira in Karimganj district and Maniknagar in Hailakandi district.
Sumonto Guhathakurta, the secretary of the Surma Valley branch of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), however, painted a completely opposite picture about the health of the Cachar tea industry.
According to him, the profits which had accrued to the plantations during the past two seasons had been “eaten away” in the wake of the “heavy crop loss” because of inclement weather and the sudden slump in the earning of a majority of the gardens. From January to July this year, the tea gardens in Cachar were drenched by 16,173 cm of showers compared to 8,432 cm rainfall between January and July last year.
He added considering the present slump under which the gardens in the district had now been reeling, it would be “well nigh impossible” on the part of the gardens, including the profit-churning big ones in the valley to pay the bonus on the dotted line of 20 per cent.
The ITA stated that “it is apprehensive if the Cachar gardens could be this time meet the bonus aspirations of the legions of tea workers.”
Cachar district deputy commissioner Harendra Kumar Dev Mahanta said he would call a meeting of the tea industry.