GUWAHATI: As Assam goes to the polls on March 27 in the first phase with the 10-lakh strong tea garden workers forming the bulk of the voter base, leading tea tribe organization, All Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) warned the Congress on Sunday not to indulge in ‘politics’ with tea labourers just to garner votes.
Among the five guarantees the Congress has promised to the people if it wins, is Rs 365 daily wage for tea garden workers. The leading tribe body alleged the Congress had hoodwinked them for over 50 years. “The Congress ruled Assam for 15 years in a row. They got ample time to give us land rights and implement an improved minimum wage but there was total apathy on their side,” ATTSA president Dhiraj Gowala told TOI on Sunday.
ATSAA called off Monday’s state-wide strike on the minimum wage issue, citing the matter is subjudice. But Gowala said their role would be to project the ‘betrayal of Congress and BJP’ who are to blame for the plight of the tea workers. “Our activists have gone to the tea gardens to create awareness about exercising their voting rights, which should be an independent decision and not influenced by hollow promises,” he added.
Rahul Gandhi has promised that the tea workers’ wages would be hiked to Rs 365 within six hours of assuming power. But the ATTSA leader called the promise ‘unrealistic’.
Congress has said in its campaigns that it is shameful that in 2021 tea workers are still being paid Rs 167 a day as minimum wage. “We have studied the economic situation of the tea industry and at present, we feel that Rs 365 per day is possible. If tea workers in Kerala can get Rs 380 then we don’t see why tea workers in Assam can’t get Rs 365,” Bobbeeta Sharma, chairperson of the media department of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC), said in a release.
“At a time when inflation has touched the sky, Rs 167 is not just inadequate but inhuman too. We think this is grave exploitation of a hard-working community that produces tea, which the whole world drinks,” she added.
While the BJP had promised a wage of Rs 350 daily in the 2014 general election, the BJP-led government in Assam could increase the daily wage of tea workers from Rs 167 to Rs 217 only. The Indian Tea Association and 17 other tea planters had moved the Gauhati high court recently.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, has been reiterating that their ‘sincere efforts’ to uplift the tea community would continue.
Despite the legal hurdles in hiking the wage of tea workers, the Congress is going ahead to attract the tea garden voters with a flurry of promises. Congress has set up a legal committee to explore the viability of the demands of six communities, including the tea tribes, for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list. The legal committee is also looking into finding a viable way to give land pattas to tea tribe workers for houses in which they have been living for decades.