Assam is letting district heads do the banking for planters so that tea estate workers, who are paid weekly, get their wages on time, insulating them from the cash crunch triggered by scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes.
Deputy commissioners have been told to provide cash to planters in lieu of cheques from them, state’s finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Sunday, when queues outside banks and ATMs grew longer across the country and tempers ran high.
“Workers of some estates in (eastern Assam’s) Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts have received wages after initial hiccups. For the others, planters have been told to deposit cheques favouring the district administration concerned and take cash in return to tide over this temporary crisis,” Sarma said.
The Modi government’s November 8 decision to discontinue the high-value notes, which accounted for more than 80% of the currency in circulation, put the owners of around 800 tea estates in Assam in a bind -- for 175 years, workers have been paid their wages in cash on Fridays or Saturdays.
The minimum daily wage of around 7,00,000 casual and permanent tea plantation workers is Rs 169, which doesn’t include housing, electricity and other expenses.
Sarma’s announcement came as a huge relief for planters since tea plantation workers have been known to turn violent if wages are delayed. Since 2005, at least six planters and executives have been hacked to death for delay in payment of Durga Puja bonus.
An Assam government spokesperson said 1.82 lakh people had exchanged banknotes worth Rs 3,700 crore in the last three days. “We expect the situation to ease considerably from Monday, with banks assuring proper ATM functioning,” he said.
Announcing the decision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said a person could change Rs 4,000 in old notes a day at banks and post offices. Account holders can draw up to Rs 20,000 a week from banks and Rs 2,000 from ATMs a day till November 18 and Rs 4,000 a day thereafter.