JORHAT, July 13 - State Labour and Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das today asked the tea industry to come forward and discuss their problems with the Government freely so that the latter may do its bit to extend whatever support it could to the industry to overcome the surmounting difficulties.
Das was speaking as guest of honour at the 81st annual general meeting of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association meeting at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club here.
Das said the Government was keen to offer whatever assistance possible to the industry to overcome the difficulties it has been currently facing.
The Minister said that at first the industry has to come forward and discuss the issues with the Government so that the latter would come to know and think upon how it could help and to what extent.
“Today I have come here to listen to your problems and to assure that the Government will do whatever possible to tide over the current situation,” Das said.
He said that being the Minister for Tea Tribes and Labour Welfare, his prime concern was well-being of the workers and to see that the labour laws were implemented in a proper manner. Das said the industry has to remain in good shape so that the workers’ wellbeing was taken care of, because if the planters suffer, then the workers too will.
Das said that the gardens too should follow the legacy and goodwill created by their previous generations so that the Labour Department need not take any punitive action.
“The Government has no intention to antagonise the industry, but to help one of the oldest industry of Assam to sustain and grow even further.
He suggested to the planters that they should think on changing the system of running the gardens for better sustainability by adapting to the changing scenario as the present system was devised by the British planters about two centuries back.
He said he was hopeful that solutions will emerge so as to overcome the problems faced by the industry after discussions with the Government.
It may be mentioned here that Das was a former general secretary of Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association before he joined politics in 2011 and became a legislator.
Tea Board Chairman PK Bezboruah, a noted planter himself and a former ATPA Chairman, in his address, touched upon the wide range of issues that was concerning the industry presently.
Bezboruah pointed out that sharp rise in cost of production of tea in the past few years and prices of tea remaining stagnant since 2012 have burdened the gardens. The Tea Board Chairman said that increasing labour expenses too has added much to the cost of production.
He said that in 2012 the daily wage of a worker was Rs 67, but now it has shot up to Rs 167, with recently the State Government announcing an interim hike of Rs 30. He said the gardens also pay in kind to the workers in addition to the monetary wages.
“The industry is not against paying more to the workers, but without prices not going up and steep rise in cost of production would affect sustainability of the gardens,” Bezboruah emphasised.
He also expressed concern over the quality of tea reaching the market, stating that the Government should raise the bar of standard (ISO 3720) through which the tea is sent to the market to ensure better quality of tea.
He suggested that the industry should agree to stop factory production by December 15 and also stop dispatching tea to the market after December 31 every year to ensure that poor quality teas do not reach the market.
He expressed concern that if the difficulties faced by the industry were not overcome, then there will be a big crisis after which gardens will get splintered and will be taken by small groups of people. Bezboruah said working conditions and wages of such small gardens will be lower than the present times.
Bezboruah urged the State Government to withdraw green leaf cess levied on tea gardens as done to the small tea growers to lessen the burden on planters. He urged the industry to devise cost-cutting measures to tackle the present crunch by suggesting lifestyle change by downsizing the number of servants in bungalows of the mangers and planters.
Tea Board Deputy Chairman Arun Kumar Ray, ATPA Chairman Arun Thekedath and marketing expert Manish Sinha too spoke on the occasion.