In Assam, tea workers still in grip of loan sharks
Around 20-40 per cent of tea labourer community in the State are still totally dependent on money lenders who charge astronomical interest - as high as 240 per cent per annum
By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, Sept 27: On every wage day, Hiraboti Gokhai of Tongogaon tea garden has to cough up a portion of earnings to a moneylender while returning home. Gokhai has become accustomed to this routine for more than a year now, ever since he borrowed some money to meet his family requirements. And he is unlikely to come out of the grip of the loan shark.
Ruthless moneylenders are fast catching up with the poorly-paid tea workers of the State.
Sources in the industry said around 20-40 percent of tea labourer community in the State are still totally dependent on moneylenders who charge astronomical interest rates - as high as 240 per cent per annum.
The interest charged by the moneylenders is not constant. They can charge anything from Rs 10 to Rs 50 per hundred in 15 days. In absence of any other credit facility, the debtors have little option but to comply with the charges of the lenders.
"It is an everyday affair in most tea gardens. You can see the moneylenders standing on the garden roads on every wage day to collect the interest from the debtors. Even if a worker is charged Rs 10 per Rs 100 in 15 days, it comes to around Rs 240 per annum. The borrower can never come out from the debt and they end up paying a large portion of their income to the lenders. In emergencies, the rate of interest become as high as Rs 100 per Rs 100 in 15 days, which means they have to pay more than triple the amount of money as the interest," said an assistant mager of a garden in upper Assam.
"This is the reason why the tea workers cannot save their earnings and improve their condition of living. With the little income they earn, workers cannot meet the day-to-day requirements of their families," he said.
This old and discredited system of micro-fincing is still prevalent in most tea gardens of the State, and it is largely blamed on lack of awareness among the workers and poor pays.
In fact, some people from the tea community itself, who are placed in better positions, have also started this business of lending money at high interests.
"We can hardly save money as most of it goes out as interest. We have to borrow to meet the requirements of the family members. This system of borrowing has been there since decades. Earlier, the Kabuliwalas gave us the money and now we borrow from tea workers who are placed in better positions," said another tea worker Mantu yak.
All Assam Tea Tribe Students' Association (AATSA) president Prahlad Guwala feels that the district administrations should initiate measures to free tea workers from the clutches of extortiote moneylenders.
"This custom of borrowing money has been going on since ages. We had thought it had come to an end. But if it is still continuing, we must work more to create awareness among the people. The district administration and other authorities concerned should also come forward to tackle this mece," he said.