A cup of Assam tea — dark, full-bodied, with a malty flavour — can be an invigorating drink. But the hands that pluck two leaves and a bud in the tea gardens are not quite healthy, says a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
The ICMR survey conducted in some of the 857 major gardens revealed that 72 per cent of the labourers were anaemic while 70 per cent were victims of malnutrition. Over 65 per cent were suffering from diseases like diarrhoea and tuberculosis. About 60 per cent of labourers were alcoholics.
Assam has 2,71,000 hectares under tea cultivation, which is over 50 per cent of the total plantation area in India. Consequently, the state has the largest labour force — 5.93 lakh permanent labourers and seven lakh temporary workers.
The ICMR survey has added to the misery of the Rs 800 crore industry going through a market slump and desperately trying to position tea as a health drink to stave off competition from coffee.
It has also caused a furore in the winter session of the Assam assembly that began on Monday.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Congress MLA Muhibul Haque said the government needed to take serious steps to improve the health of plantation workers who do not have access to good medical facilities. AGP legislator Pradip Hazarika also pointed to the poor living conditions of labourers.
Labour Minister Prithibi Majhi agreed that the report was a matter of concern. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the Tea Tribes Welfare Department was focusing on all aspects affecting the plantation workers. He added that revival plans for ailing tea estates have been put in place for the 11th Five Year Plan.