GUWAHATI: The Congress in Assam has criticized the Centre’s move to do away with the British-era system of giving ration to tea estate workers and urged not to implement it. The Union labour ministry is planning to draw curtains on the age-old system of “cash and kind” wages for the plantation workers and make cash payments in their bank accounts mandatory.
Under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, the wages of plantation workers include cash besides ration, healthcare and education services (in kind). The daily wage of a plantation worker in Assam, with effect from January this year, is Rs.137. He or she is also entitled to 35 kgs of rice and wheat every month at subsidized 54 paise per kg.
The Congress asked the Centre to clarify if the money, to be given to the workers in lieu of ration which is viewed a part of their wages, would be on a par with market prices. “We oppose the Centre’s move to kill the system of ration. This is not just anti-poor but also illegal,” Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Ripun Bora said.
“As of now, it’s not clear how much money a worker will get in lieu of ration. If the money is at the subsidized rate of ration, it will be a great injustice to the workers. We must not forget that the family members of workers also enjoy the fruit of the system. If the government implements the decision without examining these aspects, the miseries of workers will only increase,” Bora said. Assam has some 850 tea estates with the number of workers (permanent and casual) estimated at around nine lakh. Together with their family members, some 25 lakh-30 lakh people are the beneficiaries of subsidized ration.
The influential Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) said it would oppose the Centre’s move tooth and nail. “Our stand is that the workers should keep getting ration provided by the management. A reason is that there is never any delay in getting it. Secondly, most workers spend their weekly wages in a day or two. Now, if a certain amount is paid in lieu of ration, many workers will misuse it on liquor or elsewhere,” ACMS leader Nabin Keot told Express. “If the government goes ahead with the decision by amending the Plantation Labour Act, it could trigger dangerous consequences across tea estates,” he warned.