N-E labourers strike it rich
Extortion is contagious, particularly in Assam where militants often rule the roost, writes Rahul Karmakar.india Updated: Feb 27, 2006 14:28 IST
Extortion is contagious, particularly in a state where militants often rule the roost.
If the proscribed Ulfa turned extortion into a lucrative industry two decades ago, its surrendered avatar Sulfa added a bit of sophistication. Now, it’s the labourers that are allegedly getting into the racket.
According to Kamrup Chamber of Commerce, labourers engaged in loading and unloading goods have been charging an average Rs 400 per truck as "handling tax". The fee, payable to a coterie of labour leaders, is over and above the "exorbitantly high" loading/unloading charges they have been levying for the last five years.
Goods trucks entering Assam and the rest of the Northeast from the border with West Bengal were taxed at several points, until the government withdrew the check gates.
Most of these check gates were manned by Sulfa members and the money collected found their way to the police, bureaucrats, politicians, and yes, underground militants too.
These taxes were factored into the price of commodities at the consumer lever.
The withdrawal of the gates should've resulted in lessening of prices. But that’s not the case. The prices remain more or less constant, apparently due to the
The "extortion" first came to light last week after the All Guwahati Mazdoor Union (AGMU) demanded a 90 per cent hike in loading/unloading charges, which haven't been revised in five years.
It launched an indefinite strike after the KCC turned down its demand, maintaining the charges fixed five years ago were higher than the rates applicable in all urban centres in eastern India.
For instance, a labourer in Guwahati charges Rs 1.01 for loading/unloading every 50 kg bag of commodity. The charge in Kolkata is 85 paise and in Tinsukia Re 1.
"We don't mind raising charges but it is the consumer who has to pay," said KCC president Mahavir Jain. He added that the labour unions had pocketed Rs 20 crore in extra charges over the past five years besides the "handling fee".
But AGMU leader Ram Japo Chaupal negated the charges, saying the KCC's idea of comparing charges was unacceptable. "Why didn’t they react when the charges were exorbitantly high five years," he asked.