Maoists organizing in tea gardens?

Jorhat, May 10: Security forces are keeping a close watch on the sick tea gardens of Upper Assam, whose underdeveloped conditions, they believe, could be exploited by Maoists.

A source in the police department said there were reports of Maoists planning to spread their tentacles to tea gardens after trying to set up a permanent base along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border districts like Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar over the past few years.

These districts encompass a large number of tea estates along the inter-state border. Over 70 per cent of the total tea gardens in the state lie in Upper Assam. The workers are underprivileged and illiterate and their living conditions are poor compared to other sections of society, providing the perfect breeding ground for extremism. The Maoists are trying to get a foothold into the tea bastion, which holds the promise of a broad support base with its sizeable population, by luring tea community youths from these gardens.

Sources said these districts had recently received a directive from the police headquarters asking them to keep vigil in the tea estates and other vulnerable areas, especially in tea gardens declared sick by the government, where financial liabilities and the resultant non-payment or irregular payment of daily wages, irregular ration supply and PF deposit default was leading to labour unrest.

A senior police official in Upper Assam said Maoists were eyeing the tea tribes as they could indoctrinate them by taking up their causes and fighting for their rights. He said it was a fact that health, sanitation and housing conditions in these tea estates were extremely poor, conditions which the Maoists could exploit.

Moreover, some tea tribes have their roots in the tribal areas of states like Orissa and Jharkhand, which are now part of the Maoist-dominated areas, and tribal leaders of these states who have joined the Maoists could brainwash the deprived teas tribes easily, he added.

The official said though no official survey was being conducted, they were collecting information on these gardens.

An official of a tea growers’ association said though the condition of the tea industry had looked up in the last three years with prices going up gradually, many gardens were still struggling to come out of the crisis created about a decade ago.

Search operations are on in Tinsukia district’s Sadiya subdivision on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, where four Maoists were killed in an encounter with the police yesterday, for the two rebels who had managed to escape.

Police today picked up five persons for questioning from the village where the encounter had taken place.

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