GUWAHATI: Assam might be known for its top-quality tea production but the plight of the tea plantation workers has always been a lesser-known fact. Over 33 lakh tea tribe people, who mostly earn their living by working in Assam’s some 850 tea gardens, have been allegedly neglected, overlooked by the government and their cries have also remained unheard.
“The ‘Chaiwala’ has betrayed the ‘Chai’ grower,” said Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi as the Opposition party of Congress has once again raised the demand of paying at least Rs 351 daily to each of the tea garden workers in the Assam Assembly on Tuesday. It was the second day of the House’s monsoon session.
The hike in the daily wage from its current rate of around Rs167 to Rs 350 as proposed by the advisory board for tea workers has always remained one of the prime demands of the community besides a Schedule Tribe (ST) status demand.
Though traditionally considered to be supporters of Congress, the tea worker favoured BJP in 2014 making a dent in the Congress bastion when the saffron camp promised to fulfill the demand within six months from coming into power.
However, with BJP’s promises not fulfilled yet, the Congress has once again tried to corner BJP ruled state government by reminding it promises. The leader of the Opposition, Debabrata Saikia said, “The Opposition parties have demanded that the government must fulfill their election promise and make it a law to pay Rs 351 as the daily wage of the tea workers within this assembly session.”
Brought to Assam by the British from central India’s Chotanagpur plateau for tea cultivation during the early 19th Century, the tea tribe community has been the backbone of Assam’s reputed tea industry. Despite the community living in other parts of the country enjoying ST status, the same has been deprived in Assam on the ground that the list of STs is accorded to each state or Union Territory is valid only within that particular jurisdiction.
Usually, the list of ST communities is state-specific and a community declared as ST in one state, does not necessarily receive the same recognition in other states.
With some 850 tea gardens spread across the seven upper Assam districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji, the tea tribes add up to over 33 lakh of the total population. They consist one of the largest chunks of ‘decisive’ votes in the Upper Assam belt.
Recently, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal met representatives of the tea tribe community and promised of setting up a hostel and guest house in the city. He also promised of taking steps to protect the mother tongue language of the community under the government scheme.