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ACMS clamours for security

Jorhat, Jan. 20: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) will approach Dispur seeking adequate security for its office-bearers as well as tea garden owners in the state.

The move comes in the wake of the killing of a former ACMS (Nagaon branch) secretary and central committee member, Niranjan Patra, on Friday, reportedly by members of a new militant outfit, National Adivasi Socialist Council of Assam (NASCA), believed to be operating in certain tea gardens.

The ACMS — the oldest and largest union of tea workers in the state with its central office in Dibrugarh — had called a 12-hour Assam bandh from 6am today in protest against the killing.

The bandh had a total impact on tea estates in the entire Brahmaputra valley except a few gardens located in the Barak Valley (southern Assam) as workers of gardens in that region are affiliated to another union. The bandh had a mixed response in the urban areas with life affected in towns in the tea belt, but partial in towns outside it.

Plying of long-distance vehicles was affected as protesters blocked roads and burned tyres at a number of places.

ACMS general secretary Dileshwar Tanti told this correspondent today that the executive body of the union would meet tomorrow and adopt a resolution to approach the state government seeking protection for its office-bearers across the state.

There are 22 ACMS branches across Assam with eight lakh workers (both permanent and casual) as members. Tanti, a former MLA, said the union would urge Dispur to take “immediate steps” to provide protection to their office-bearers.

“We will also ask the government to provide protection to garden owners and management staff in view of extortion demands and incidents of abductions by rebel outfits,” Tanti said, referring to the incidents of abduction of Pabhoi tea estate manager Bharat Singh Rathore (hailing from Rajasthan) at Biswanath Chariali sub-division in Sonitpur district on January 16 and killing of planter Adilur Rahman of Tejalpatty tea estate in the same district in November 2012 by Bodo militants.

The proposed move by the ACMS assumes political significance as the union is headed by Assam Deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti and has DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar as adviser. Ghatowar, who represents the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha seat, is a former ACMS president. Tea tribes have comprised the traditional Congress base with 13 MLAs, including ministers in the Tarun Gogoi-led government. There is one Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha MP of the Congress from the community representing Assam.

Assam parliamentary secretary (home) Atuwa Munda told The Telegraph that the government was duty-bound to provide protection to citizens of all communities of Assam. He said already police have arrested three persons for their alleged involvement in the murder of Patra and were searching for another one.

Munda said according to police information, no new rebel organisation has been formed by tea tribe youths. He said a “handful of antisocial youths” belonging to the tea community from Nagaon and adjoining Karbi Anglong district was taking to extortion for “easy money” in the name of NASCA.

“The police have taken prompt steps and they have been directed to take firm action against such men,” Munda said.

On the abduction of Rathore, he said the police were getting “some clues” and working on them. He said in this case, too, a local criminal gang from the tea tribe is suspected to have been involved.

Bhimananda Tanti said over phone from Pune the ACMS wants the government to take firm action to secure the release of Rathore.