BY OUR STAFF REPORTER
GUWAHATI, January 18: The objection to the Central government's directive of stopping allocation of bulk food grains to tea gardens in Assam from this month onward would not have received such huge support of tea bodies and labourers if ration cards were given to labourers by garden authorities as per New Delhi's earlier instruction.
Since 2003–04, the tea estates based in Assam have been repeatedly told by the Central government through Dispur that tea labourers should be given ration cards, by which, they would be entitled to get rice and wheat under the public distribution system (PDS) but the garden authorities didn't pay heed to the Centre's directive.
The labourers working in tea estates across the State have been provided subsidized ration (rice and wheat at the rate of 50 paise per kg) by the respective garden authorities since 1950. The State government is providing 12,590 MT of rice and wheat quarterly at above poverty line rate and distributing the same among the permanent and temporary garden workers in accordance with the agreement between tea labourers and garden magement as per the Plantation Labour Act.
The subsidized ration to tea garden workers is part of their wages under the Plantation Labour Act. After the Central government's order, the tea garden magement now has to procure rice and wheat from the market and distribute it among the labourers or they have to increase the wages of the workers.
However, following this directive of the Centre, the Assam Chah Majdoor Sangha (ACMS) filed a petition in the Gauhati High Court, appealing it to suspend the decision of the Central government. Based of the ACMS petition, the High Court has suspended the government's directive for the time being.
When the Central government had decided to implement the tiol Food Security Act in Assam like other States of the country, at that time it was also made clear that allocation of subsidized ration for tea gardens in the State would be stopped. The garden authorities were asked by the government to distribute ration by themselves.
Sources said the State Food and Civil Supplies Department had complained that the garden authorities had never submitted the records of distribution of subsidized ration among tea labourers, which was necessary to introduce the ration card system.
There is also an allegation that the garden authorities, for their own benefits, lift extra amount of rice and wheat for the ration purpose, and that is one of the reasons why the Central government is putting pressure on garden authorities to introduce the ration card system in the State's tea gardens. However, the garden authorities denied the allegation.
It may be mentioned that the tiol Food Security Act, 2013 (also Right to Food Act) is an Act aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of the country's 1.2 billion people. The Act was passed during the UPA days.
With the implementation of the very Act in Assam by March 31, the tea garden workers in the State will be brought under the purview of the Act. Despite being well aware of the fact that tea labourers in the State would not be entitled to get subsidized ration as per the old system when the tiol Food Security Act comes into force, Dispur did't protest it when the Act was passed. Even influential Congress leaders from the tea community like Paban Singh Ghatowar, Prithibi Majhi and few others preferred to keep mum at that time. When the rendra Modi–led BJP government came to power, the Congress government in the State raised its voice against the former's decision to stop allocation of subsidized ration to tea gardens.
Is this only politics or something else?