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Tea labourers cease work over abduction

Jorhat, Dec. 12: Labourers of four small tea plantations owned by the same proprietor (Ramesh Dutta, also known as Dhan) along the Assam-Nagaland border in Jorhat district today ceased work indefinitely seeking protection for their lives.

The demand comes in the wake of yesterday’s abduction and subsequent release of four garden workers by unidentified men from Nagaland.

Four workers of Laljan Project (as the plantation is called) in the Rongham area under Selenghat police outpost of Teok police station were abducted by an armed group of five men from across the border (Mokokchung district of Nagaland) and taken to neighbouring state.

Labourers stayed away from work today following a call by the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) to abstain from work demanding protection of the workers.

ATTSA president (Selenghat unit) Ajay Tanti told this correspondent that they had given a call to stop work in the four plantations after having a meeting with the workers this morning. Over 1,000 labourers work in the four small plantations.

“We want assurance from the management of the firm on providing security and protection to the workers from criminals belonging to Nagaland, who have attacked workers several times in the past few years,” Tanti said.

He said last year, three workers were injured, with one becoming unfit for work, after criminals fired at them in one of the four plantations.

The ATTSA leader said the owner should “sort out whatever problem” exists with the people from across the side and then carry out plantation, instead of making the workers pawns.

The four workers — Damu Gour, Maina Baishya, Amar Praja and Bijen Gowala — were released by their captors following alleged payment of a ransom of Rs 1.5 lakh by the firm to the abductors, who are suspected to be militants belonging to an outfit of Nagaland.

The workers were released to a group of four persons (three workers and an employee of the plantation), which had gone to a basti (small village in Nagaland) across the border late yesterday afternoon, to talk to members of the village council to facilitate the release of the workers.

Neither police nor the firm said how the hostages were released.

Yesterday, Assam additional director-general of police (law and order) A.P. Rout had denied having knowledge about the ransom demand. He, too, said it could not be ascertained whether militants from Nagaland were involved in the abduction. Senior district police officers remained tight-lipped since yesterday, refusing to say anything on the incident.

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