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Tea workers set 10-day deadline

- Several organisations push new government for solutions to myriad problems

The foundation stone of NID at Rajabari in Jorhat. File picture

Jorhat, May 30: A workers' rights organisation today set a 10-day deadline for the newly formed BJP-led government in Assam to fulfil the demands of the workers of Tocklai tea estate here.

The Gana Adhikar Sangram Samiti has threatened an agitation and halt of the construction of the proposed Jorhat branch of the National Institute of Design (NID) to be constructed on a 93- bigha plot on the Tocklai tea estate.

The Tocklai Tea Research Institute took the tea estate on lease from the Assam Tea Corporation Ltd nearly 35 years ago.

On the eve of the 2011 Assembly elections, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone but the NID project had failed to take off for many years. However, construction began in March after the National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited awarded the contract to a Guwahati-based construction firm.

The site is about 200 metres from the residence of Jorhat MLA and AICC secretary Rana Goswami, who, after remaining MLA for two consecutive terms since 2006, lost to the BJP's Hitendra Nath Goswami this time.

The Telegraph on February 18, had a carried a report on the project hanging fire for five years after initial work like construction of the boundary wall was undertaken in March 2012, which too faced severe protests from workers of the Tocklai garden, who received support from the Chah Shramik Mukti Sangram Samity (Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti's tea garden unit).

The Gana Adhikar Sangram Samiti is a new workers' organisation formed earlier this month with leaders from several communities of the state with former convener of Chah Shramik Mukti Sangram Samity, Sanjay Krishna Tanti, heading the organisation as general secretary.

Tanti had led a massive protest against the construction of the boundary wall of the NID project before their legitimate demands were met. The workers had feared that they would be displaced because of the project.

However, after several rounds of talks with the district administration, the issue was sorted out. The administration said no family would be displaced because of the project. But the work was disrupted again for about a month after two garden workers were murdered on May 16, 2012, creating tension in the area. Thereafter, there was no progress on the project until March 2016.

Tanti said according to an agreement between Chah Shramik Mukti Sangram Samity and the aggrieved workers in presence of then chief minister Tarun Gogoi, in June 2012, 14 promises were made by the administration.

He said the major demands like allotting government surplus land under the Ceiling Act to 52 families residing in the garden, carrying out plantation in a vacant area of 112 bighas of the estate, constructing pucca road inside the garden, providing drinking water and electricity connections to all garden householdshave not been fulfilled.

Tanti said if within June 10 the new government did not respond then Gana Adhikar Sangram Samiti activists would hold demonstrations at the project site.

"At the same time we will also explore legal course," Tanti said. He alleged Rs 5 lakh sanctioned by the government to carry out plantation in the 112 bighas has been misappropriated by government officials. In November, a team from the Union commerce ministry had visited Jorhat to discuss the project.

The team had then come up with the idea of starting the institute by introducing classes tentatively from the new academic session (June or July 2016) on a campus of a private educational institute in the district on rent, but there has been no communication in this regard to the district administration.


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