The Congress in Assam on Sunday criticised the Union government’s move to end the British-era system of providing ration to tea estate workers as part of their daily wages.
During his visit to Assam last week, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said the Centre was planning to make transfer of wages to bank accounts of plantation workers mandatory. This would mean an end to the 170-year-old system of paying the workers in cash and kind.
Under the Plantation Labour Act of 1951, a plantation worker’s wage is divided into cash and kind comprising ration, healthcare and education services.
A plantation worker’s daily wage, revised in January this year, is Rs 137. He or she is also entitled to a monthly quota of 35 kg or rice and wheat at a subsidised 54 paise per kg.
Assam has some 850 tea estates employing an estimated nine lakh permanent and casual workers. About 30 lakh people, including workers’ dependents, are beneficiaries of subsidised ration.
“We are not against cash transfer of wages, but the Centre has no clarity on how it will calculate the value of ration – at 54 paise or the market value of Rs 25-28 per kg. If the money transferred is at the subsidised rate of ration, it will be injustice to the workers,” Congress state unit president Ripun Bora said on Sunday.
“A worker’s family members also enjoy the fruits of the present system. The government needs to examine the pros and cons before implementing a decision that appears to be pro-planters,” he said.
Bora also said the move was illegal since the Gauhati High Court in 2014 had stayed a similar move to “kill the ration system” soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power.
The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) said it would oppose the Centre’s move tooth and nail.
“Workers must keep getting ration from the management. Most workers spend their weekly wages in a day or two. Now, if a certain amount is paid in lieu of ration, many workers will misuse it on liquor or elsewhere,” ACMS leader Nabin Keot told Hindustan Times.