The Telegraph
Wednesday , July 16 , 2014
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Tea gardens battle labour crunch

- Climate change another challenge, says new ATPA chairman

Jorhat, July 15: The Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA) will take necessary steps to meet challenges faced because of labour shortage which has been plaguing the tea gardens of Assam of late.

The newly elected chairman of the ATPA, Raj Barooah, told The Telegraph today that the major challenge before the Assam tea industry is the shortage of labour apart from climate change. He said the association would be taking necessary steps to overcome this problem.

“Climate change is a matter of concern and the R&D institutes are dealing with such issues but tea associations like the ATPA have to address the problem of labour shortage in the estates. This is one of the major challenges before the industry,” Barooah said.

Barooah, director of Aideobari Tea Estates (Pvt.) Ltd, was unanimously elected as the ATPA chairman for the term 2014-16 at the first meeting of the new executive committee held at Golaghat Gymkhana on July 11. Arun Thekedath, director of Baraunagar Tea Co. (Pvt.) Ltd, was elected the vice-chairman. Both would start functioning after the next annual general meeting of the association, scheduled to be held next month at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club.

The ATPA has 190 member gardens and is the oldest body of ethnic tea planters in Assam.

Barooah said although R&D on mechanical harvesting, pruning and other fields of operation were necessary the tea industry cannot think of doing away with labourers since it is an agricultural industry and depends heavily on the labour force.

The newly elected chairman said the industry was probably not being able to lure the new generation labourers, who were being attracted to other jobs. This was one of the main reasons for the shortage of labourers in gardens these days.

“We have to think of ways to lure the new generation labourers,” he said.

Industry sources said government schemes like the MGNREGA were one of the major reasons for labour shortage in the tea gardens. Labourers take up jobs under these government schemes and stay away from tea garden works. “Absenteeism has become a regular affair in tea gardens. Often labourers are seen engaging in jobs provided under various government schemes,” a tea garden executive here said.

There are also reports of reverse migration of labour from Assam tea estates to their ancestral places in search of better jobs.

Dhiraj Gowala, an office bearer of the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association, said work in the tea gardens is no longer attractive for the new generation who opt for other jobs. “Tea labourers are paid much lesser and in many gardens their condition is pathetic. In such a scenario the new generation avoids jobs in tea gardens,” he said.

The Assam tea industry employs about 5 lakh permanent workers and 5 lakh seasonal workers.