| Policemen and local residents in front of the jewellery shop that was looted on Sunday. (Biplab Basak)
Siliguri, Jan. 13: Tea planters have requested Darjeeling district officials to allow only jobless below-poverty-line villagers to work under the central rural job scheme, not garden hands, as worker absenteeism in the estates had risen to 30 per cent in the past two years.
Sources said under the MNREGS, workers are paid Rs 130 a day against Rs 90 that garden owners pay casual labourers. As a result most tea workers take up the job scheme even though they are already enrolled for work in the gardens.
“We appreciate the state’s initiative to introduce the rural job scheme in the tea belt. This has helped the non-workers get employment. But we would like to urge the administration to offer 100 days’ work only to those who are below the poverty line and jobless. This can help curb the trend of absenteeism (in the gardens) and work for the smooth running of the industry,” R.K. Rungta, chairman of the north Bengal branch of the Tea Association of India, said.
The association took up the matter with the administration at the annual general meeting held here earlier this month.
Absenteeism, particularly among casual garden workers, is not a new thing.
“Seven-eight years back, the rate of absenteeism was around 15 to 20 per cent. But recently, it has crossed the 30 per cent mark, leaving the management concerned,” said Vijay Dhandhania, the senior vice-president of TAI.
“If the trend continues, the rate might climb up to 50 per cent and have a huge negative impact on the industry. During the tea season (March to November) and particularly the peak season (July- October), hundreds of casual labourers are employed. If a substantial chunk of workers stay away (at that time), it would have a serious effect on the entire industry,” he added.
“During the tea season, the administration and the authorities should provide jobs only to unemployed people from BPL families.”
Representatives of other associations also spoke on similar lines.
“The daily wage for a casual garden worker is Rs 90 while for the 100 days’ scheme it is around Rs 130 (Rs 136 according to a Union government notification). It is an open secret that workload in a garden is much more than under the rural job scheme,” a planter from the Dooars said.
“These two factors are causing the problem. Most casual labourers are opting to work under the government scheme.”
Another representative of a planters’ association said: “As of now, it is not possible for the industry to pay rates equal to or higher than Rs 130 or Rs 136.”