GUWAHATI: The operations in Assam’s tea gardens resumed on Saturday as the Central government exempted farm work from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Industry sources said only “preliminary work” has resumed at a few tea estates in Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Darrang districts.
Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna said, “The District Magistrates were asked to take decisions garden-wise as per Government of India’s direction. If the management and the workers want to resume operations, they can do so after assuring the DMs that they will maintain all advisories.”
Initially, the workers will restrict their activities primarily to plant protection, irrigation and sanitization at workers’ settlements.
“The government has allowed the engagement of 50 per cent workforce (in the lockdown). The operations will take place in a staggered manner, initially with the maintenance work,” Assam Tea Planters’ Association chairperson Nazrana Ahmed told this newspaper.
She said the preliminary operations would resume across tea estates after Rongali Bihu which is celebrated from mid-April.
The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the state’s apex welfare body of tea garden workers, said the gardens had been instructed to adhere to World Health Organisation and Assam’s Health Department guidelines.
“Guidelines have been issued on social distancing, sanitization, hand washing etc. During the period of lockdown, the gardens will be sealed with a ban on entry and exit,” ACMH general secretary Rupesh Gowala said.
Assam has around 800 tea estates where 7.21 lakh workers are employed. There are also hundreds of small tea growers. Gowala said the workers at the tea estates were not affected by the lockdown.
“I cannot say about the tea workers of Barak Valley but those in the Brahmaputra Valley received a lump sum amount as advance against their wages. They will receive the remaining amount as well,” Gowala said.
He said the workers were not afraid of going to gardens but they wanted the health-related guidelines to be strictly followed by the management. Operations at the gardens were suspended after the Central government had clamped the lockdown last month.