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Tea ration scam rocks House, members demand probe

SUBSIDIZED FOODGRAIN FOR 10 LAKH ‘GHOST’ WORKERS!

Minister Pallab Lochon Das sounds warning to errant tea garden magements, accuses previous Congress government and Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh of complicity

BY OUR STAFF REPORTER

GUWAHATI, Feb 3: Another massive scam is coming to light in Assam, this one involving tea garden magements in cahoots with sections of government officials and Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh during the previous Congress government’s tenure. Subsidized foodgrain was shown to be distributed as ration among 19 lakh tea workers, though as per government records, the number of tea workers (permanent as well as temporary) in the State stands at 9 lakh. So where did the ration for 10 lakh ‘ghost’ tea workers disappear?

The shocking disclosure was made by State Labour and Tea Tribe Welfare Minister Pallab Lochon Das in the Assembly on Friday. Tea garden magements as a whole, in the me of distributing ration among 19 lakh workers, had purchased rice and wheat from the government at subsidized rates. Actually though, the state has a total 9 lakh tea workers who got the two items as ration.

After the disclosure by Das, members of the House demanded a high level enquiry into the “ration scam”. Speaker Hitendra th Goswami assured the House that he will discuss the issue with the Chief Minister and take a decision soon.

Sounding a stern warning to tea garden magements, Das said, “As per the Labour Act, it is the responsibility of garden magements to give all facilities including ration to their workers. If any garden magement fails to do the same, action will be taken against it by the government,” adding, “As fixed by the government, minimum daily wage of a tea worker is Rs 179 – of which, Rs 143 is paid in cash and the remaining in kind. But it is found that many garden magements, by violating government rules, pay Rs 115 as daily wage to a worker. In this exploitation of tea workers, the Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh is also involved.”

Drawing attention of the government, BJP MLA Terasa Goala expressed concern over possible law and order disturbances in tea gardens, due to some garden magements spreading the news that the government has stopped ration to workers. He urged the government to intervene in the matter.

In his reply, Minister Pallab Lochon Das said, “For distributing rice and wheat at the rate of 50 paisa per kg as ration among workers, tea garden magements purchase huge quantity of rice and wheat from the government at subsidized rates. The government supplies the required rice and wheat from the Central government’s Above Poverty Line (APL) scheme,” adding, “Earlier at subsidized rates per month, these gardens purchased 12,000 MT of rice and 5,000 MT of wheat from the government in the me of giving ration to 19 lakh tea workers. But as per official records, there are around 9 lakh tea labourers – 4.6 lakh permanent and 4.3 lakh temporary – in the State. This issue was not looked into by the previous government. This was also not possible without the involvement of a section of government officials, besides garden magements and the Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh.”

Das further said, “When the tiol Food Security Act (NFSA) was implemented in tea gardens of the State, the Government of India stopped giving rice to gardens at subsidized rates and instead ordered gardens to purchase rice at general rate and give the same to their workers as ration. But the garden magements began a disinformation campaign, blaming the government for stopping ration to workers by garden magements. As per the Labour Act, ration is a component of wage and so, it must be given.”

The minister said garden magements must also pay minimum wages to workers at the rate fixed by the government. “The rate of minimum daily wage should also be the same for tea workers in both Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys,” he added.

Now, the big question is: If there are around 9 lakh tea workers in the State as per official records, then why did garden magements purchase rice and wheat in subsidized rates from the government in the me of 19 lakh labourers? Who all benefited by ‘feeding ration’ to 10 lakh non-existent tea workers?