Tinsukia, Sept. 5: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today asked the tea industry to pay bonus to workers at all costs — if necessary, by taking loans from financial institutions.
The chief minister’s statement may have been music to the ears of the garden workers, who have been traditionally loyal to the ruling Congress, but not so for the industry, which is reeling under the impact of the worst recession in its history.
Gogoi raised the topic during a public meeting in Tinsukia, the commercial hub of Upper Assam. AICC observer Mohsina Kidwai and PCC president and Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha chief Paban Singh Ghatowar were present at the rally.
The management-worker row over bonus — as many as 40 per cent of the 800-odd gardens in Assam claim they do not have funds to make payments — threatens to spoil the festive season. Those gardens that have agreed to pay bonus at the minimum stipulated rate of 8.33 per cent say they will do so only in instalments.
The influential Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association yesterday vowed to begin an agitation if gardens broke the tradition of paying bonus. Executives of many gardens have reportedly applied for leave during Puja, presumably to escape the wrath of workers in the event of being denied their annual bonus.
To the delight of the 5,000-odd gathering, mostly garden labourers, Gogoi said gardens should not make workers suffer for dwindling profits.
“We know the tea industry is facing a crisis, but we will ensure that labourers do not suffer. We have requested the planters to arrange for money, even if by borrowing from banks and financial institutions.”
Ghatowar praised Gogoi for taking the initiative to end the impasse and blamed the BJP for the crisis in the industry.
“The BJP and its industrial policies are to be blamed for the tea crisis. When the media was highlighting the possibility of a fresh Chinese aggression from across the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP was busy plotting the downfall of the Mukut Mithi government there with the help of the NSCN (I-M),” he claimed.
After Ghatowar’s reference to the political coup in Arunachal Pradesh, the rally at the Dohotiachuk Bihutoli turned into an election rally with party MPs having a go at the AGP and the BJP.
Four parliamentarians — Bijoy Krishna Handique, Ranee Narah, Dwijen Sarmah and Ghatowar — addressed the rally. The quartet urged the people to vote for the Congress in the Lok Sabha poll, while the chief minister seized the opportunity to reaffirm his hold on the party. He assured Kidwai, in public, that the Congress would win in all 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Assam.
Describing the BJP as a “poisonous snake”, Gogoi said: “The BJP is communal. We need to kill this snake to save our society.”
Kidwai made similar remarks about the saffron party and accused it of neglecting the Northeast.
She urged the people of Assam to back Congress president Sonia Gandhi as the next Prime Minister.