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MP raises ‘forced tea labour’ issue

New Delhi, Aug. 1: Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, Santiuse Kujur, today raised the issue of “forced labour” in Assam’s tea gardens in Parliament.

The daily wages of an Assam tea garden labourer is just Rs 95 per day while they do not get a paid weekly off. In tea gardens in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the wage is Rs 216.27 and Rs 209.27 per day, Kujur said during a Special Mention in the Upper House.

“This meagre wage indicates forced labour in tea gardens which is the violation of the Constitution’s Article 23. The minimum wage act lays down the wage at Rs 169,” he said.

The MP said low wages have led to an increase in poverty among tea workers, unhygienic living conditions and loss of human resources, as they are unable to seek good education.

According to government statistics for 2011-12, 32 per cent of Assam’s population lives below the poverty line (according to the Suresh Tendulkar methodology that defines a person whose spending capacity is less than Rs 27.2 as BPL in rural areas). Professor Tendulkar was chairman of the expert group that worked on a methodology for estimation of poverty.

Even with a family of four members, a tea labourer will be below the poverty line with a single earning member.

Assam is among the three poorest states in the Northeast with Arunachal having 34.7 per cent and Manipur 36.9 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

“I urge the government to increase the daily wages of tea garden labourers of Assam to minimum Rs 300,” said Kujur.

He said there are about 800 gardens managed by big companies, which earn huge profits. Over 40 lakh workers are employed in the gardens with whom the companies do not share their profits, he said.