DIBRUGARH, April 20 – After taking over the reins of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) as its president for the sixth term, Paban Singh Ghatowar, five-time Congress MP from the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency and a former Union Minister, today made a scathing attack on the past leaders of the State Congress for conspiring to deny the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to various communities settled in tea plantations, during the early days of the State.
“The members of the same communities settled in West Bengal and Tripura have been reaping the benefits of ST status since 1950, but the then Congress leaders in Assam had hatched a conspiracy to deny ST status to the tea communities living in the State to extract political mileage,” the senior Congress leader told newsmen during a press meet at the ACMS head office here today.
He also lambasted the subsequent State governments for failing to take up the ST status issue during their tenures. Ghatowar demanded that the present State government take immediate steps to accord ST status to the tea communities of Assam.
The veteran Congress leader also sought to clarify that ACMS, the trade union of the plantation workers, was not a wing or unit of the Indian National Congress (INC). “Although the ACMS enjoys proximity to the Congress due to the similar ideologies and thoughts, it is not governed or influenced by the political party. Our trade union is independent and our members elect its own leaders. The ACMS has its own roadmap for achieving its goals,” Ghatowar pointed out.
On the process of updating the National Register of Citizens, Ghatowar called upon the State government to set up mobile centres within tea plantations to help out the families in locating the Legacy Data Code, stating that the majority of the population in the tea estates of Assam are illiterate and not familiar with computer systems. If simple methods are not applied to locate ancestral links for the largely illiterate people in the tea estates, a big chunk of the tea garden population may be left out of the NRC update process, he said.
While briefing newsmen on the adopted resolutions of the ACMS during its just-concluded general body meeting, Ghatowar said that processions and protest rallies would be organised in more than 1,000 TEs across Assam on April 23 in support of their demands like implementation of minimum wage, total implementation of the Plantation Labour Act in the State government-owned Assam Tea Corporation Limited (ATCL) tea gardens, hike in the wages of workers engaged under small tea growers to Rs 140, electrification with individual meters in every TE household, issue of land pattas for TE and ex-TE holding lands, provincialisation of all primary schools of the tea estates and halt to acquisition of plantation land by OIL, ONGC and other industries, etc.
The ACMS asked the government to pay the tea workers at par with their counterparts in other States. It also demanded that the State government pay the arrears and ration to the workers in ATCL gardens by June 30 and the unpaid PF, gratuity, etc., amounting to more than Rs 100 crore, by July 31, 2015. Ghatowar said that all 22 branches of the ACMS have been directed to organise the rallies in a huge way in their respective areas.