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The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rush to quell ‘pent-up’ ire

Guwahati, Dec. 27: A rattled Dispur today directed all deputy commissioners, superintendents of police and the labour department to review the law and order situation and ensure implementation of the Plantation Labour Act, 1955, in the state’s tea gardens.

The advisory was issued today to all districts with the twin objectives of meeting the genuine demands of the tea workers as well as checking Maoist forces from exploiting the situation arising out of yesterday’s ghastly incident in Tinsukia district.

Yesterday, the proprietor of Konapathar tea estate, a private garden, and his wife were burnt alive following retaliation by a group of labourers for the arrest of two co-workers over issues related to accommodation provided by the management.

“These steps are required. Yesterday’s ghastly incident could be attributed to pent-up anger over indifference of the management towards genuine demands of workers. We need to check this and there is always the Maoist threat, though there is no specific input about their involvement in the incident as of now,” a source said.

Another source said the incident had shaken the administration into looking at “governance deficits” in the tea belt, even at the cost of inviting the ire of an industry that occupies an important place in Assam, produces 51 per cent of the tea produced in India and engages about 17 per cent of the state’s labour force.

The state has over 800 tea estates and 70,000 small tea gardens. On the political front, the tea community plays a decisive role in most constituencies, especially in Upper Assam and Barak Valley.

Last year, MLAs representing the community had forced Dispur to convene a high-level meeting during the Assembly session to hear and act on their demands.

“The Assam Plantation Labour Act basically covers issues related to ration, housing, welfare activities, education, drinking water,” said Bhimananda Tanti, the acting president of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the apex body of the workers.

“We have asked the government to hike the fines imposed on a garden for violation of any clause from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000,” he said.

The PCC’s tea cell chairman, Bhagirath Karan, told The Telegraph that the unfortunate and condemnable incident had only underscored the immediate need to address the genuine problems of the tea workers. “Problems and demands should not be allowed to accumulate.”

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