Call to amend existing laws

 GUWAHATI, Sept 12 – Noting that the existing laws meant for welfare of tea tribes have the balance tilted towards the tea estate managements, Minister of State for Labour and Tea Tribes Welfare Pallab Lochan Das today said there was need to regulate the industry by bringing about amendments in the legislations.“The Plantation Labour Act of 1951 provides for the welfare of labour and has provisions to regulate the conditions of work. But the problem is that the Act does not tell us what we should do if the provisions are not implemented,” Das said in his remarks following an eight-hour discussion in the Assembly on the pathetic plight of the tea tribes. As many as 35 legislators, including the Chief Minister and Opposition leader, spoke during the day-long discussion, introduced as a new device in the House under the name ‘Speaker’s Initiative’.

Critical of the managements, the minister said there is “no clarity” about the wage negotiation process which takes place between the ACMS and the managements. “Neither there is any clarity on the total production, how much tea is sold through the auction, what are the rates… there is no system of balance sheets. The entire system needs to be changed if we have to regulate the industry,” Das, also a legislator from the tea community, said.

Asking the MLAs to give their suggestions to the government in writing, the minister also said there was need to frame separate education, health and land policies for the tea tribes whose population is around 80 lakh, which also includes Adivasis not linked to the tea industry.

Both the minister and Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami supported the demand from a number of legislators for a separate tea ministry which would look after all aspects concerning the tea tribes.

“Now, everything is khichiri. The issues are divided among various departments. A dedicated department will give right direction to efforts aimed at the development of the community,” Goswami said.

Mariani MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi suggested that the House should take a resolution for declaring tea as a ‘National drink’ and send it to the Central government.

Minister Keshab Mahanta, legislators Pramod Borthakur and Utpal Bora highlighted the difficulty in implementing government schemes in the tea garden areas as the managements are not very keen to give the no objection certificates (NOCs).

“We have been treating the tea estates as separate areas. We are unable to develop the roads, set up water supply schemes within the tea estates as a lot of persuasion is needed to get the NOCs from the managements. The result is that the development activities have not been all-inclusive. The government schemes have to have access to the tea garden areas,” Mahanta said.

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