Lease-out nod for tea estates
Decks have been cleared for the leasing out of 12 Assam Tea Corporation Limited (ATCL) gardens which have accrued liabilities of over Rs 450 crore.
The much-awaited breakthrough came at a meeting convened by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma with representatives of tea garden workers and employees’ unions here on Thursday to discuss the “challenges and road ahead” for the ailing ATCL gardens.
Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) president Paban Singh Ghatowar told The Telegraph that the meeting threw up a “win-win situation” for the workers, the employees, the gardens, and the government.
“Decks have been cleared for the leasing out of the 12 of the 15 ATCL gardens with the government assuring to clear all statutory liabilities such as PF and gratuity at the earliest,” he said.
A state government undertaking established in 1972, the ATCL had initiated the process for leasing the 12 gardens, with over 16,000 workers and employees and an annual production of 40 lakh kg of tea, in August. Ghatowar said there will also be “no” retrenchment, the prospective investors can start with “no” worries about past liabilities and the ATCL continue to retain the ownership of its leased gardens.
“We thank the chief minister for his initiative to resolve ATCL’s long-standing problems. The proposed settlement will end the sufferings of families of deceased garden workers due to non-receipt of PF and gratuity. Now they will get pay and facilities at par with other gardens. The gardens will also see new investment from prospective investors/ new management,” Ghatowar, who heads the state’s biggest tea workers union, said.
Besides the ACMS, representatives of the other workers and employees’ unions — Assam Chah Karmachari Sangha, Barak Cha Mazdoor Sangha, Barak Cha Sramik Sangha, Bharatiya Cha Karmachari Union, Barak Valley — ATCL chairman Rajdeep Goala, tea welfare minister Sanjay Kishan participated in the meeting chaired by the chief minister.
ATCL chairman Goala told The Telegraph that it was a “historic development under chief minister Sarma” because several attempts in the past to revive the gardens have failed.
“It is good news for the ATCL and the tea industry. Since day one ATCL is running at a loss... liabilities have accrued since its inception i.e 50 years. It is a much-awaited breakthrough and I am privileged to be a part of this effort. The Unions have thanked the CM after the meeting and have assured all cooperation to the prospective management,” Goala said. He said the “best part” about the leasing process is that the ownership will remain with the government.
“If the new management/ investor fails to keep its part of the bargain, the government will take over the management.
“A three-member committee each will be set up for Barak and Brahmaputra valleys to look into the pay and other entitlements of the workers.”
“Everybody is benefitting. Workers will get their dues, new management will have no past dues to settle and the government will not have to bail out ATCL every time. The government gave us Rs 142 crore to clear PF dues and CM has assured to clear all liabilities, of around Rs 450 crore, at the earliest,” Goala, a former MLA, said.
The ATCL chairman said, everything remains equal, and the leasing out of the gardens will start in January.