Jorhat, Aug. 29: The Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) will stage sit-ins in front of all tea garden offices from September 1 to 5 to demand basic facilities for workers and their recruitment into clerical and welfare officer posts.
The association’s president, Prahlad Gowala, told The Telegraph that the students’ body would stage a two-hour protest in front of the garden offices in support of their demands.
He said the demands included provision of safe drinking water, proper housing, health and sanitation facilities, timely deposit of workers’ provident fund share by the gardens and filling up of vacant posts of clerks and welfare officers in gardens by recruiting qualified tea tribe youths.
There are about 1,000 big and medium organised tea gardens in the state.
Gowala said a large number of gardens had not repaired the workers’ quarters, as a result of which they were living in pathetic conditions.
Labour laws for plantation workers called for safe drinking water and proper health facilities, which were not provided by a number of estate authorities, he said and added that many gardens witnessed outbreaks of water-borne diseases almost every year owing to lack of proper health and hygiene conditions.
The association’s assistant general secretary, Dhiraj Gowala, said the industry had been neglecting the workers by not providing even the minimum healthcare facilities. A large number of gardens was employing part-time doctors and support staff instead of regular doctors, paramedical staff and ambulances.
He said the government, too, had been neglecting the community by not amending the Plantation Labour Act 1951, which, in its present form, was very “lenient” towards those violating the act — fine amounting to only a few hundred rupees was imposed if an estate was found not adhering to the provisions of the act.
“We are already a backward community and the industry and the government, despite our repeated demands, failed to improve the education and health infrastructure in the estates. Many of the schools in the tea estates are still run by the garden management and the children are deprived of basic educational amenities,” the leader said, adding that many of the garden schools had been working without teachers.
The state’s tea community, which has a population of over 50 lakh, has been suffering from several burning problems, including non-inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes, allotment of land rights to landless members, seat reservation in educational institutions and wage-related issues in the tea estates.
The assistant general secretary said student bodies had been undertaking several fasting programmes in the past, including a 100-hour fast by the association at Dispur in November last year, but they had not been able to get the desired results.
People and civil society should understand that if democratic means of protest, done in the interest of the state and communities, was given whole-hearted support, then the government would be forced to act, he added.