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Tea union plea to keep rice subsidy

Jorhat, Aug. 8: The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) has warned Dispur of serious law-and-order issues if the system of providing subsidised atta and rice to tea workers through garden managements is discontinued.

Dispur has said it will withdraw the subsidy after the implementation of the National Food Security Act from September this year.

The government had announced its decision at a state-level meeting held in Dispur on August 2.

The meeting was chaired by minister for labour and employment, revenue and disaster management Prithibi Majhi and attended by minister for youth and sports affairs Ajit Singh, representatives from different tea industry associations, the ACMS and food and civil supplies officials.

According to the minutes of the meeting (a copy of which is available with The Telegraph), Majhi said once the new food law is implemented, the government would not be able to provide rice and atta to the gardens at subsidised rates.

He said the tea estates would have to procure ration for workers from the open market or at fixed rates from the Food Corporation of India if they continued the prevailing system. The state government has been providing 7,600 tonnes of rice and 5,000 tonnes of wheat each month to the tea gardens at subsidised rates.

Majhi said the food and civil supplies department would facilitate the tea industry to lift the stocks from the FCI, if it was sought by the industry.

Under the food security act, a beneficiary will get 5kg of rice per month at Rs 3 per kg through the food and civil supplies department, which will supply the ration to fair-price shops across the state. To avail the benefit, a beneficiary’s annual earnings will have to be below Rs 1 lakh and priority will be given to daily-wage earners.

The tea workers’ union, in a letter written to chief minister Tarun Gogoi earlier this week, had welcomed the implementation of the food security act in the state, including tea estates.

However, the union warned Gogoi of severe resentment if the regular weekly supply of atta and rice to the workers was disrupted.

The letter, issued by the general secretary of the union, Dileshwar Tanti, said there might be a “law and order situation” in the gardens if the regular supply was hampered.

Tanti requested Gogoi to ensure continued supply of ration to avoid an adverse situation. “We want the workers to get rice under the food security act. However, the supply of rice and atta at subsidised rates should continue or it will lead to severe unrest,” Tanti, a former MLA, said.

He said the management was legally bound to continue with the current system that has prevailed over 65 years, as it was part of the workers’ wages. The system functions under the ambit of an agreement between the industry and the tea workers’ union.

J.N. Baruah, secretary of the Tea Association of India (Assam branch), said the industry was at a loss and was thinking of a solution. “The industry will have to face a huge financial burden with production being hit this year as a result of unfavourable weather conditions and Puja bonus payment ahead. It will be difficult for the industry to continue the ration supply without government subsidy,” Baruah said.

Describing the living conditions in tea gardens as pitiable, first-time MP from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi, during zero hour in Parliament today, demanded that a special category for tea garden workers must be included in all central government schemes.


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