SILCHAR, March 20 - At a time when the Government is keen to make an effort to strengthen the tea industry, labour absenteeism has emerged as a major hurdle affecting tea productivity in south Assam. “Weekend labour absenteeism has touched around 50 percent at present while mid-week absenteeism averages around 20 per cent,” said Ishwar Bhai Ubhadia, chairman of Surma Valley branch of the Indian Tea Association (ITA).
In his address at the 116th annual general meeting of the SVBITA, Ubhadia said that all calculations and efforts for obtaining better prices of tea are almost at a dead end since most tea gardens here have reported lack of manpower for skiffing. In his words, the upper levels of price obtained for Barak Valley has improved by at least 30 per cent in the past few years. But he was quick to mention that production in 2016 has seen a reversal. “Harvesting leaf on a seven to nine day round is hindered mainly by labour absenteeism. However, every manager in Barak Valley and even in Tripura has tried his best to improve the quality as dictated by the market with the hope of obtaining better prices,” the chairman mentioned.
Nayantara Paul Choudhury, additional vice chairperson of ITA at Kolkata said that production of tea in Assam has been in line with an all-india increase at 1239 million kg in 2016. She mentioned the steep challenge posed by demonetisation of the high currency notes which had restricted withdrawals for disbursing wages of the labourers. “We thank the Chief Minister and the State Government for appreciating the gravity of the situation and taking prompt steps for resolving the crisis. We are also happy with the Government’s decision to provide Rs 5000 to each tea garden worker which they can avail by opening bank accounts. Paul Choudhury remarked that the power situation in Barak Valley has not been satisfactory as only 55 per cent is available of the total requirement which adds to the increased stress on the cost of production.
Arijit Raha, secretary general of ITA at Kolkata and JP Sisodia, chairman, ITA Barak Valley branch urged the Government to look into the issue of opening ATMs in the tea gardens of the State.
In his address as the chief guest, Cachar Deputy Commissioner S Vishwanathan said that the Government shall extend all possible assistance to the tea industry. “Tea industry generates business of over Rs 500 crore in Cachar district and is much older than 150 years of Cachar district administration. We have overcome the probing phase of demonetisation and efforts are being made to open 131 ATMs across tea gardens in the district. Improved medical and education facilities at the tea gardens shall help reduce the mortality rates in the tea gardens. The ITA and the TAI shall have to play defining roles to check that payments of the tea workers are made on time,” the Deputy Commissioner maintained. Bhaskar Prasad Chaliha, secretary of Surma Valley branch of the Indian Tea Association conducted the proceedings of the meeting.