New rules trigger unrest in Cachar garden

Silchar, May 2: An emergency meeting has been called tomorrow to ease the tension at Urrunabund tea estate, 15km from here, over the workers’ reluctance to adhere to a new code of discipline that culminated in a daylong strike in the garden on April 26.

The meeting, called by the assistant labour commissioner of south Assam districts, Pratap Singh Haobam, will be held in his office with the management of Urrunabund tea estate, representatives of various tea workers’ union and local authorities of the Indian Tea Association.

The strike was imposed at the garden by the Bharatiya Cha Mazdoor Samity to press for its four-point charter of demands.

One of the demands includes withdrawal of the new rule of compulsory headcount of daily wage earners at 8.30 every morning.

A notice was also issued by garden manager R.N. Pandey, making it mandatory for labourers to clock eight hours at work everyday.

These rules, introduced last year to infuse discipline among the 500-odd workers in the garden, triggered a wave of discontent among the labourers, many of whom refused to abide by the regulations.

The secretary of the local branch of the Indian Tea Association, Sumanta Guhathakurtha, said a section of workers had, of late, been refusing to abide by the new work ethics, which the garden management had sought to enforce to increase its tea output.

A head supervisor of the garden was also manhandled by a worker of the garden on April 25.

The plantation run by Luxmi Tea Company and owned by Bengal-based planter Dipankar Chatterji, has an annual output of 4 lakh kg of CTC tea. The garden covers 1,096 hectares, of which 350 hectares are dedicated to tea.

Tea industry sources, however, said the tension was fomented intentionally to disrupt the planter’s plan to donate a part of the garden land for building a hospital.

The land transfer would require dismantling of cottages and vegetable gardens built by labourers.

The Luxmi Tea Company wants to donate 30 acres, including a section of land that has been encroached upon by settlers in Urrunabund tea garden, for the Rs 100-crore hospital to be built by a charity organisation.

Chatterji, known for his work, bemoaned the handiwork of vested interests to disrupt his plans of building the hospital and a healthcare centre.

It now depends on Haobam to resolve the issue.

The tension comes over a month after the Asom Majuri Shramik Union, with its headquarters in Silchar, demanded that the tea industry should hike the daily wages of labourers on a par with wages given to workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) schemes.

The demand came in the wake of the Centre increasing the daily wage of a labourer under NREGA schemes to Rs 130 from Rs 100 recently.

Following the demands, the tea garden workers had a hike of Rs 5 in their daily wage from April 1, after which the rate went up to Rs 71.50.
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