The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bloodshed after Assam tea bonus backlash

Dibrugarh, Sept. 29: Seven labourers were killed today and over 15 injured in Assam’s Khobang tea estate when police opened fire on a mob protesting non-payment of bonus at the rate they wanted.

The incident punctured the ruling Congress’ claim that the impasse over bonus had been resolved amicably between the tea management and labourers after the intervention of the government and the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha.

Earlier this month, chief minister Tarun Gogoi had asked gardens to pay bonus even by taking loans.

Sources said the labourers at the estate in Tinsukia district, not satisfied with the management’s decision to pay bonus at the rate of 15 per cent, 5 per cent less than their demand, ransacked the office of manager Amit Kumar Das at 4.30 pm and manhandled him. The situation spun out of control when they tried to snatch the weapons of the Assam Tea Protection Force personnel. “The security personnel opened fire in self-defence when the mob attacked them,” a source said.

The garden, owned by the Assam Frontier Company, has a heavy police presence. It has nearly 2,000 labourers.

The Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association has called a 12-hour bandh on Wednesday and demanded a Rs 2 lakh compensation for each of the families of those killed.

The storm has been brewing for some time. On May 31, two managerial staff of Sapoi tea estate were lynched by labourers. Within a fortnight, labourers killed the assistant manager of Nandanban tea estate. On August 12, the managerial staff of a Karimganj tea estate were assaulted.

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