The West Bengal Government has stepped in to bail out the labour intensive tea industry presently reeling under severe wage crisis over demonetization. As the wages of workers is paid in cash and there is a ceiling over withdrawal of cash, workers have not received their weekly payments with unrest in many tea gardens of North Bengal.
“The State Government has worked out a modality to bail the industry out of this crisis. The Chief Minister has instructed that district administration accounts will be used by the tea industry to help disburse the cash towards wages. Accordingly the four District Magistrates of the tea producing districts have been notified” stated Barun Kumar Ray, Divisional Commissioner, Jalpaiguri Division.
There are 283 tea gardens in the four tea producing districts in North Bengal namely Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Uttar Dinajpur. The tea industry of North Bengal employs around 3.5 lakh permanent and casual workers. The workers get a daily wage of Rs. 132.50. Wages are usually disbursed weekly or fortnightly.
With the ceiling over bank withdrawals wage disbursement has come to a standstill sparking unrest. The tea industry had written to the State Government requesting immediate intervention.
Under the system introduced by West Bengal government,tea gardens will first have to apply to the District Magistrate furnishing the details of the amount of money required for weekly disbursement along with the number of workers. Then they will have to deposit the amount by cheque or electronic transfer to a designated account of the District Collectorate. The DM will then withdraw the amount in cash and return it to the tea gardens which will then be disbursed as wages.
“The DM’s of the four district are holding meetings with the banks to facilitate this as lot of cash is required. As the cash will have to be brought in physically it will take some time. However we are hopeful that by the next weekly wage disbursing day (usually Friday or Saturday) we will be able to handover the amount to the Tea garden management” stated the Divisional Commissioner.
As per a RBI circular the District Magistrates can withdraw amounts above the withdrawal ceiling in exceptional cases stated Anurag Shrivastava, District Magistrate, Darjeeling.
“The Tea Industry is grateful to the Government in comprehending and addressing the problem of the workers and putting in place the mechanism. The Darjeeling Tea Association requests that remittance are not made in Rs. 2000/- denominations as this will compound the problems” stated Sandeep Mukherjee, Principal Advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA.)