More than five lakh workers in tea and jute industries --- the two biggest labour-intensive industries of Bengal --- have not been paid their daily and weekly wages as a result of the cash crunch in the market and the Centre’s cap on withdrawals.
Owners of several tea gardens and jute mills have written to the state government and the Reserve Bank of India, requesting a waiver on the withdrawal ceiling. None have received a response yet.
There are 283 tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars region, employing nearly 3.5 lakh permanent and casual workers, who earn Rs 132.50 per day. Besides, there are another 40,000 small growers who employ one lakh labourers.
The present cash crisis has hit the tea sector badly, which is already languishing leading to a string of deaths from symptoms related to extreme malnutrition and hunger. No payments have been made since Wednesday.
“We have written to senior state government officials. We are apprehending workers’ unrest and we have alerted the police. We have requested the trade unions to appeal to the workers to maintain law and order and cooperate with the management,” Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association, told HT on Friday.
In the jute industry, which employs nearly 2.5 lakh workers, payments are mostly made in cash fortnightly and most mills pay the first instalment between the 7th and 10th of every month.
“Some mills disbursed payments on November 7 and November 8 but most of the workers came back on November 9 and 10 to return the payment, as they were made in Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes that have been withdrawn from the market. “Hardly anyone has received payment since the prime minister’s announcement,” an owner of a jute mill in Hooghly district told HT.
The Indian Jute Mills Association has also written to Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra and the RBI seeking urgent help.
(Additional reporting by Pramod Giri from Siliguri.)