| A tea garden in Tezpur. File picture |
Guwahati, June 26: The tea industry has asked the Union finance ministry to review its decision to stop financial support to the Assam Industrial Security Force (AISF), which provides security cover to gardens.
The ministry had earlier conveyed its inability to provide funds under security related expenditure since such funds cannot be made available for a private force.
Sources said the Indian Tea Association in its pre-budget memorandum to the ministry said the AISF is a force raised by the Assam government and deployed for the tea industry. “The issue of financial support for the force, therefore, needs sympathetic review,” it said.
The association had raised a security force — Assam Tea Plantation Security Force — in 1993 according to the state government’s advice to restore confidence and morale of the garden managements and workers during a phase of high insurgency.
Dispur restructured the force to form the Assam Industrial Security Force in 2009 for giving permanency and conferring higher pay structure on the lines of Assam police under which the annual cost per unit of the force has gone up from Rs 10.4 lakh to around Rs 28 lakh.
The AISF now provides security cover to 115 tea gardens in Assam.
“The annual aggregate expenditure works to around Rs 30 crore with cost per kg of made tea rising to Rs 4. This is unsustainable for the tea gardens,” the association said.
On social costs, a huge burden to the industry, the association suggested re-introduction of the loan-cum-subsidy scheme based on the current cost of construction according to government specifications.
Tea plantations in the organised sector are required to provide various welfare facilities like housing, education and medical aid among others to workers and their families under the provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. “These are the facilities which the government is expected to extend to all citizens,” the industry said.
The high cost of tea production has been a critical factor impeding its competitiveness. A major component of the cost of production is the cost of employment, which includes the social welfare cost. The welfare cost is inclusive of the food grain supply to tea estate workers at a concession, which works out to more than Rs 8 per kg of made tea.
The industry said moves should be initiated to examine whether various government schemes relating to sanitation (total sanitation campaign), medical facilities (through National Rural Health Mission) and education (through Sarba Siksha Abhijan) could be extended to the tea plantations.
It said unlike other industries, tea wages are given in cash and kind such as foodgrain, housing, fuel, dry tea, education, medical and others. “It is a misconception that NREGA payments are higher than tea wages. As of today, total outgo in cash and kind is equivalent to Rs 190 per day per worker,” the memorandum said.
The association said while tea prices have marginally improved, the gains have been offset by significant increases in costs and large segments of the tea industry still suffer from impaired profitability and even now have been unable to completely wipe out accumulated losses.