Dialogue  January - March, 2009 , Volume 10  No. 3

Development of Tea Garden Community and Adivasi Identity Politics in Assam                                                 

Biswajeet Saikia*                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

    With growing dissonance with the trade unions of the tea garden labourer, the newly established student organisations among the labour community is taking over the vital issues for welfare of the tea garden community in Assam. Although production and cultivation of tea in Assam is increasing substantially over a period of time but the conditions of the tea-garden labourer are deteriorating. The welfare schemes for the labourers in the tea gardens are in very pathetic conditions. Majority of the tea gardens don’t have proper health facility, drinking water, sanitation, and electricity connection etc. The apathy of the main stream Assamese society towards the development of the tea garden labourer put the community at the war path. Reluctant attitudes towards the tea garden labour community to include cultural assimilation of greater Assamese nationality building process made them worst victim of underdevelopment in the 21st century.

Background                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Many debates have been raised on the struggle and the identity of the tea garden labourers in Assam as an aftermath of the incident at Guwahati on November 24th, 2007.  In the media it was portrayed as an age old enmity between the Assamese and the labourers. The incident is also seen as an ultimate expression of the inbuilt prejudice and class hatred which marked the approach of a sizable section of Assamese middle class towards the tea garden labourers (Gohain December 8, 2007). The civil society in the state acted with alacrity and condemned the incident with one voice while at the same time asserted that the November 24 incident should not be viewed as an Assamese-Adivasi clash (Misra, December 22, 2007). Although, the incident of 24th of November, 2007 was condemnable in every sense and every news paper, electronic media and civil society organization expressed deep concern about the community but the larger debate over the issues of the socio-economic development of the tea garden community in Assam has not come out in the context of the rise of Adivasi identity politics.                        Since the 1860s, when the first batch of indentured labourers were brought into Assam from present day Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh,1 there were occasional clashes between the management and the tea garden labourers in Assam (Sanjay Barboa, July, 1999). Although issues of clash between the management and the labourers were mainly regarding the wage and bonus, in the 90’s it shifted to other developmental issues among the tea garden labourers in the state.                                                                                                    Since the 1980’s Assam has been witnessing a series of movements where people have been fighting for their rights over land, language, civil liberties rights and special reservation status for development. The tea garden labourers also, who mostly live in the tea garden cooli line, which has been more or less isolated from the mainstream political and economic development process in the state, have gradually started participation by creating several types of organisations for establishing their demand for the development of the community.                                                 With growing dissonance with the trade unions of the tea garden labourer, the newly growing student organisations among the labour community is taking over the vital issue of welfare of the tea garden community in Assam. Since the 90’s the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) and very recently the Assam Adivasi Student Association (AASA), are raising their concerns. These two organisations are demanding a Schedule Tribes (ST) status to the tea garden labour community as their community members in the back home states (e.g. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, west Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh) are receiving the same status. The incident at Guwahati is a final blow to their grievances to the state and management of the tea gardens whom they identified as being responsible for the underdevelopment of the tea garden labour community. The apathy of the mainstream Assamese society towards the development of the tea garden labourers put the community at the war path. Reluctant attitudes towards the tea garden labour community to include cultural assimilation of greater Assamese nationality building process made them the worst victim of underdevelopment in the 21st century.                                                                    Seeing the complexity of the situation, this article will discuss the greater debate on the inclusive development in an enclave type plantation economy in Assam. Demographically, Tea garden labour community of Assam represents around 20% of the total population of the state accounting more than 45 lakh tea garden labour population in the state and is one of the biggest contributors to the organised workforce as well to the economy of Assam both directly and indirectly. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in tea industry. Among them, around 50% of the total workforces in the tea gardens in Assam are women.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Plantation Labour Act                                                                                                                                                                                                             Immediately after independence, seeing the pathetic condition of the plantation labour in the country (tea, coffee, rubber, etc.), the Parliament of India passed an Act called the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, which was regularly amended from time to time. Under this Act, the socio- economic development was assigned to the tea management companies who employ the labour for their production.                                                    The Act has provisions like the registration of the plantation, appointment of chief inspector of the state government, etc. The chief inspector of the state government have to verify the provisions of the health facilities of the tea garden, drinking water, sanitation, canteen, crèches, recreational facilities, housing facilities, etc. The state government also has power under this Act to appoint a labour commissioner to look in matters of wage, conflict with the management or any other legal matters. The Act provides that no adult workers and adolescent or child shall be employed for more than 48 hours and 27 hours respectively per week, and every worker is entitled for a day of rest during a period of 7 days.                                                                               The rules prepared by the state government out of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have lopsided provisions. An official committee has suggested review of the relevant provisions in the country’s Plantations Labour Act as these provisions instituted in the early years of the industry had become onerous in view of the widening chasm between productivity of labour and the compensation disbursed. The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) was set up which had looked at various issues related to the plantation sector in the country. The report of IMC said that in the event of the State providing the welfare amenities ordinarily available to citizens of the country need to be extended to plantation estates; therefore, the relevant provisions in Plantation Labour Act need to be reviewed. Accordingly, the IMC has said the union government and state governments/local self-governments should agree to bear 50 per cent of the social and infrastructural cost under the Plantation Labour Act, while the industry should bear the remaining 50 percent of this cost. The 50 percent share to be borne by the Union and the State/local self-governments is to be in the ratio of 40:10.                     After independence, along with the Plantation Labour Act, 1955; the Tea Board was set up to provide facilities for the growth of the tea industry in India.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Wages                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The wage agreements reflect the domination and power of the tea industry associations. The workers are never considered skilled, except a few handful who work in the tea processing factories. The majority remain unskilled with no skill training avenues open to them. Every worker, permanent or temporary, young or old, inexperienced or experienced, receives the same wage and is classified as daily wage worker. It has been generally observed that during the last ten years the tea employers have not conceded any major demand of the trade unions for wage increase. Recently, on 30th November, 2005 an agreement was signed between five Tea Management groups with Assam Cha Mazdur Sangha (ACMS). These five tea management groups were namely, the Indian Tea Association (ITA), Tea Association of India (TAI), Bharatiya Cha Parisad (BCP), Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA) and North Eastern Tea Association (NETA).                                                Under this agreement, a total of rupees 10 was increased for each day for next 50 months in three phase. Wages were increased to Rs. 2.60 daily from 1st December, 2005 to 30th April, 2007; Rs. 3.70 from 1st May, 2007 to 31st August, 2007 and again Rs. 3.70 from 1st September, 2008 to 31st December, 2009. Before 30th November 2005, the minimum wage of each tea garden labourer was Rs. 48.50. The small tea growers pay lesser wages in comparison to the big companies. During the peak season, each tea garden employs casual labourers at wages lower than the actual amount of the minimum wage. The recent agreement was a violation of the earlier agreement signed between the labour organisations and the tea management companies as it was decied in the agreement signed on 16th March, 2000 to increase the wages  by 17 rupees per day on the existing 48.50 rupees. The agreement also is conspicuously silent on housing, healthcare, educational and other facilities.                                                                                                           Thus, the tea plantation workers are still paid wages below the minimum wage of agricultural workers. An industry, which is highly capitalistic in character, considering its international marketing and financial activities, still pays their workers partly in cash and kind. Since 1947, the wage of the tea plantation laboure has increased only numerically, there has been no rise in their real wage. In essence, the industry has still maintained ‘feudal relations of production’ and a highly structured organisation of production in its pre-marketing phases thus reaping super-profits on the basis of semi-feudal, extra-economic coercion and exploitation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Human Development Conditions                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Assam Human Development Report was published in 2003 with a picture of tea garden labour plucking tea leaves but does not incorporate any section on tea garden labour human development conditions. The report only incorporated the Tea Board of India estimates on tea production in the state avoiding the human development index of the tea labour community. The tea garden labour comprise 20% of the total population, as a result very poor human development conditions of the tea labour community affects the state human development conditions.                                                                                                     There is no specific mention of the tea garden labourer’s health facilities as neither health conditions nor hospital infrastructure is available in the report. Under the Plantation Labour Act 1951, each tea garden should have a health center with adequate facilities. As the tea garden is remotely located and doesn’t have proper connectivity to the nearest town areas in many cases, therefore, having a health centre should be the prime concern of each tea garden.                                          The Assam Human Development Report 2003 pointed out that most women workers in the organised sector are employed in the tea gardens in the state, and this accounts for the preponderance of women workers in large scale (employing over 25 workers) private sector establishments. But the high Field Works Performance Report (FWPR) of women in the tea industry has not empowered women. Although the overall FWPR in Assam is high, the majority of women workers is either unpaid or poorly paid and belongs to the category of unskilled labour.                                       The tea garden cooli lines (generally understood as labour colony) in Assam have a unique identity. It is neither an urban, industrial nor a rural area. It is basically an industrial village cluster and is always kept underdeveloped so that the tea management company could get cheap labour easily. It distinctly belongs to a separate stratum of the economy of the state which needs a high priority to achieve a substantial level of state human development indices. Since independence, as the tea business is growing, the standard of the community has not received any benefits putting them in a situation where they are just living to provide services almost free of cost.                                                              Although production and cultivation of tea in Assam is increasing substantially over a period of time but the condition of the tea-garden labour is deteriorating. The welfare schemes for the labour in the tea gardens are in a very pathetic condition. Except for a few tea gardens (managed by big multinational companies), the condition of the labourers in the rest of the tea gardens has not met minimum standards of human living. Majority of the tea gardens do not have proper health facility, drinking water, sanitation, etc. In recent days due to Sarva Shikhsa Abhiyan, many tea garden labourers are receiving a free mid-day meal service and other facilities. The majority of the cooli lines are not even provided with an electricity connection. As the Panchayati Raj system does not include the cooli line, many central and state government welfare schemes are not available in the cooli lines as well.                                                                                                                                                         Education Facilities                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 With “Education for All” aim in view, it is proposed to ensure Zero Dropouts by 2010, the Government of India set up the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan across the country in 2001. SSA is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations. SSA seeks to provide quality elementary education including life skills. SSA has a special focus on girl’s education and children with special needs. SSA also seeks to provide computer education to bridge the digital divide.                                                                                                                                     A survey commissioned by Assam Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan Mission (ASSAM) during 2002 shows that 25% of children in the age group of 6-14 are out of school in entire Assam, while 43% are among the tea garden. Out of 2,46,843 children in the tea garden areas in the age group, 1,05,821 (42.87%) are out of school. The Assam Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan mission constituted the Tea Garden Education Committee (TGEC) and Assam human development report estimates that 1,000 Tea Garden Education Committees were set up by 2003. Presently, the state government managed schools in the Barak valley and Golaghat district in the Brahmaputra valley. The remaining schools are managed by the management companies. Among the govenment schools in the tea garden, 11.82% of workers received educational facilities in the Barak valley while it is only 2.04% in the Brahmaputra valley. It shows the condition of educational amenities available, particularly in the tea garden management controlled schools in the state.                                           The report of Tea Garden Education Committee highlighted that there are several constraints for the development of literacy campaigns in the tea garden, such as:                                                                  

1.  Very poor quality infrastructure. Majority of tea gardens have only a lower primary school with capacity of 100 to 250 students.         

2.  Classes are held in very poor quality buildings with inadequate desks and benches.                                                                      

3.    Usually there are one or at the most two teachers for four classes that have 100 to 250 student.                                                 

4.   In the majority of the schools, teachers work half day in the tea garden and half day in school.                                                   

5.    Majority of schools are closed during the plucking time since both the teacher and students work in the garden during that time

6.             As the teacher is paid by the management; therefore, is liable to the management for managing the school.   

7.   As child labour is highly encouraged in tea gardens, in majority cases children leave school to work in the tea garden for a nominal amount of money.

8.    Teachers are paid very nominal salary as they are not involved in the production process.


Health Facilities                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The survey titled “Study of health problems and nutritional status of tea garden population of Assam” concludes that a high magnitude of under nutrition and infectious diseases exist among the tea garden population of Assam. Nutritional problems like underweight among children (59.9%), thinness among adults (69.8%) and micronutrient deficiency disorder like anaemia (72%) are widespread. Common infections diseases are worm infestation (65.4%0), respiratory problems (6.7%), diaorrhea (1.7%), skin infections, filariasis (0.6%) and pulmonary tuberculosis (11.7%/, 000). This study also registered a significant burden of hypertension (45.9%), senile cataract (25.3%), epilepsy (7.3/, 000) and back pain (8.7%). Thus, the study has shown acute problems of health of the tea garden labour in Assam.                                                                 In a recent survey in ten tea gardens in Barak valley, 58.79% of the respondents said that they have access to some kind of medical facility while 41.21% do not receive any medical facility. The available primary health units at the tea garden are often understaffed, never fully equipped and do not store all required medicine stock. For medical emergencies, the respondents say that they have to travel many kilometers to reach Government Primary Health Centre2. The health facilities to the tea garden labour in Assam valley is provided to only 3.83% of the total workforce. The facilities available in Cachar region are 26.82%, but for whole state it is just 6.43%.                                          The tea garden owned by the big tea companies generally has one hospital with adequate facilities. On many occasions they also referred the patients to the neighbouring district hospitals. As there are a limited number of big tea company operated tea gardens in the state, and the majority of the tea garden workers belong to single owned tea gardens, therefore, as a whole the health condition in the tea gardens is pathetic. Secondly, in these hospitals, only those patients are treated who are either permanent or casual worker. During the lean season, when the casual workers are out of work, they are unable to avail any medical facility. The State Government with special initiatives implemented the Pulse polio campaign in the tea garden also. Initially, the tea garden management was reluctant, as they have employed one person for this job. After much discussion, the campaign was initiated among the tea garden labourers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Public Distribution System (PDS)                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Public Distribution System (PDS) in the tea gardens is the oldest food distribution system in the country. It was started during the later part of the nineteenth century by the British tea merchants to provide rice and other items to its indentured labourers. During the 20th century, the system was rationalized and food items were provided only to those who were employed. During the post independence period, it was locally known as ‘ration’ and was extended to many items.                                              Under the present system, tea industry is allotted food grains through PDS quota under APL Scheme. Food Corporation of India (FCI) supplies food grains to tea garden employees at a rate fixed by FCI. In addition to such rates, the tea garden employers are required to bear the landed cost of such food grains which includes transportation and handling charges. People bought sugar and other government subsidized items from local fair price shops. Thus two systems of the PDS are running in the tea gardens. According to an exercise undertaken by the Tea Board, the total value of food grains per worker per week including their bonafide dependent worked out to Rs.66.66 in 1997 in the state of Assam. It had increased to Rs.87.78 in the year 2006.3 Thus, concessional ration is supplied to tea plantation workers and their dependants in Assam as a part of their negotiated wage package. The food grain component has always been considered an immutable fixed component of the wages.                                                                                                   The basic food items are not distributed by the management company to those labourers who are not employed in the garden but live in the tea garden. Secondly, rations are also provided to those who are employed as causal workers for four months in a year during the plucking seasons. Thus, being a tea garden labourer, majority of the labour who are generally not working in the tea garden as well as work as casual labour were denied rations under the garden system of PDS. As to receive subsidized items from local fair shops, the labourers need to have a ration card, which they usually do not have.                                                                                                                                                                           Housing Facilities                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Compared to the Barak valley, only in the housing facilities, the position in the Brahmaputra valley is better. In the Brahmaputra valley 84.98 % housing facilities are available while in the Barak valley it is 77.58%. As there is no provision for providing any housing facilities to the casual workers, the remaining numbers either live in the garden or outside? Secondly, the management hardly provides any pucca house to all its permanent workers in each tea garden in Assam both owned by big multinational companies as well as propertied companies.                                                                                                                                   Drinking Water                                                                                                        Drinking water facility is generally in the form of a ring well and

pond in the cooli lines. The facility is provided to 0.38% workers in the Assam valley, while in the entire state it was 3.37%. In the Cachar region 26.82% of the workers received drinking water facilities from deep wells. The remaining workers have to arrange water on their own without the help of the management company.                                                                                                                                                              Insurance                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   In Assam, a special Act viz., ‘Assam Tea Plantation Provident Fund and Pension Scheme’ was enacted to provide pension and provident fund to the tea garden permanent employees. But, presently 316 tea gardens have dues to pay to the state government as provident fund contribution amounting to Rs.71,92,11,967.4 Except these provident fund and pension schemes, there are no other social security schemes like insurance which are available for both permanent and casual labourers and their families.5 Even, the tea management company never pays any compensation to the deceased family members who die due to occasional accidents which happen in the tea factories. The state government has neither introduced any insurance system for the tea garden labourer nor does any management social security system exist for the tea garden labourers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Electricity                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The tea garden cooli line falls neither under urban areas nor rural areas as mentioned earlier. Even the cooli lines are not declared as habitat villages within the tea garden as well as the labourer’s family is not recognised as people below poverty line. Therefore, they have not received any ration card cum identification card mentioning their status as people below poverty line. Due to this, neither subsidized rural electrification schemes for below poverty line people or any rural electricity connection has covered the cooli line in the state so far. After consistent demands by tea labour organizations, a few tea garden managements owned by big tea companies initiated the electrification process in the Cooli lines. The Directorate of Assam Tea Labour and Ex-Tea Labour initiated the rural electrification in the cooli lines by putting a grid connection and metering in few tea gardens in upper Assam.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Status of Women and Children                                                                                                                                                                                                             The most labor-intensive function, plucking, is a delicate operation that is often viewed as women’s work. Given few childcare alternatives, women who pluck tea often bring their young children with them into the fields. There are no maternity benefit schemes available for the tea garden labourers. It is generally witnessed that during the pregnancy and post delivery period, the woman performs strenuous work in the garden. There are no facilities to provide pre-nursing care and mandatory leave during the post delivery period to the woman workers of the tea garden.                                                                                                                        Most allegations of child labor in the tea industry involve the functions of plucking, weeding, hoeing, and nursery work. The children are also made to manually remove shrubs harmful to the tea plants. As tea gardens use pesticides extensively, the removing of shrubs with naked hands generally affects the health of the child. A 1992 report on child labour on tea plantations in North East India described the employment of children as ‘Most of the child workers are employed as casuals. Children are found to do such strenuous work as plucking under very severe climatic conditions; they are assigned to nursery work, fertilization, carrying of heavy loads and household work. They are also made to work in the factories, against established law’.6 The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986 amended certain portions of the Plantation Labour Act of 1951 by raising minimum age for employment from 12 to 14 years of age. In 1990, the Government of Assam estimated that there were 96,535 children employed on tea gardens in Assam, making up over 14 percent of the total workforce.                                                                                                                                          Government Initiatives for Welfare of Tea Labour                                                                                                                                                                           There are three types of institutions which oversee tea industry and welfare of labour in Assam. The Tea Board which is constituted by the Act of Parliament is the organization which deals with the development of tea business in the country; The Directorate for Welfare of Tea Garden Tribes (including ex-Tea Garden people) implements schemes for the welfare of tea-tribes population; and The Assam Tea Labour Welfare Board. There are many private organizations dealing mainly with the development of tea business in Assam. Among them, there are many Chambers of Commerce and Industry deals with tea industry development. These organizations worked collectively with the state industry department and dealt with subsidisation in transportation, reduction of excise duty on processed tea as well as import of technology for factories.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tea Board of India                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Tea Board head office is in Kolkata as well as three divisions in Assam. It coordinates the development of tea gardens and upgradation of quality through modernization of tea factories and extension services to growers. Popularizing Indian Tea, the board also looks into regulation of various statutory provisions for the control of the tea industry and trade, collecting data and disseminating information on tea periodically to various stakeholders for effective policy intervention and initiatives, welfare of labour through the efforts of various agencies involved in welfare activities among tea garden workers through project specific grants and financial assistance to schemes, and grants to institutions for carrying out research in tea science and technology and development projects. Thus, Tea Board’s role being a catalyst towards acceleration of the production and growth rate of tea industry, it has never looked at the welfare of the tea labour community in the state.                                                                                                                                 Directorate for Welfare of Tea Garden Tribes                                                                                                                                                                                  The Directorate for Welfare of Tea Garden Tribes (including ex-Tea Garden people) implements schemes for the welfare of tea-tribe population. For promotion of education, scholarships award and grants-in-aid are provided by the directorate. It also supports welfare works and cultural activities by NGOs. The Directorate was established in 1983 in the State for the welfare of the Tea Tribes Community and has been implementing various Schemes. The Directorate received funds under the planned assistance of plain tribes development of the central government. Although, state governments have not  as yet recognised the community as tribes under state schedule, but presently receive an allocation from the central government under the plain tribe welfare head. The directorate received 50% of the fund from central budget and  the remaining 50% from the state government plan allocation.                                                                                                                                                       Assam Tea Labour Welfare Board                                                                        The Assam Tea Labour Welfare Board was set up after the enactment of The Assam Tea Plantation Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1959. Since then board was working for the tea labour welfare in the state of Assam through various schemes. The schemes are to impart skill development training in labour welfare centres in 18 places in Assam; provide hostel facility to tea garden labourer students studying in colleges and; provide a one time scholarship for buying textbooks to students who are studying from class eight to university level; facilitate nursing training to those educated students of tea garden labourers, etc. The estimated budget of the board is roughly Rs.5 crore per year.                                                                                                                                                                        Various schemes under Bharat Nirman                                                                                                                                                                                             Under Prime Minister Rozgar Yojana (PMRY) scheme, no initiatives have been taken to include those tea garden labourers who do not have any job in the tea garden and generally worked in other places as manual workers with a nominal wage. At present, there are no such programmes or projects to cover the tea gardens in the state. In recent years, many educated youth of the community are opting to do jobs outside the tea garden but due to the unavailability of this scheme for them they being tea garden labourers living in tea gardens, these youth are not able to receive any benefits from this scheme.                                                      Under The SGSY many special programmes are implemented in each state of the country for holistic development of rural India such as Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), Pradhan Mantri Gramodya Yojana (Rural Shelter), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), etc. A substantial amount of money was spent since 2002 in the implementation of these schemes in the country.                                Such schemes are not implemented in the cooli lines of the tea gardens so far. The reasons cited by politicians, bureaucrats, policy makers and academicians for the non-implementation of these schemes for the tea garden labourers is that cooli lines are considered private land of the tea garden and does not fall under the Panchayati Raj system. Even under the special package for SCs and STs, these schemes are not implemented among the tea garden labourers as they are not included in the SCand ST list of the State Government. Although, the state government through DRDA is willing to implement these schemes in the tea gardens, and has several times asked the management to provide a no-objection certificate for allowing the DRDA to initiate Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) etc, but it has failed.                                                                                                          

Trade Unions in Tea Plantations                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The tea plantation industry is considered one of the largest organised  industries in India employing the largest workforce. The tea labour community represents through several tea labour organizations namely INTUC, CITU, ACMS, etc. The Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh (ACMS) has a wider base and both government and management negotiated with these trade unions for wage restructuring. In Assam, the Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh (ACMS) has been representing the workers for the last 50 years, and is the only recognised union, although there are some more registered unions, some of them even affiliated to the central trade unions.                                                                                                           With growing dissonance with the trade unions of the tea garden labourers, the newly growing student’s organisations among the labour community are taking over the vital issues of welfare of the tea garden community. Recently they have taken over the issues of annual bonus, provision of tribal status to the tea garden community, separate department for the tea garden labour community, provision of electricity to the tea garden labour lines, drinking water, housing, etc. Regarding the provident fund schemes and dues to be paid to the individual members, the student organizations are seriously taking up these issues with the government. The student organisations are also demanding the amendment of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 to provide appropriate measures for the welfare of the community.                                                                 No substantial plan has been announced targeting the human development factors of the tea garden labourers so far by the state government.  Thus, unless the state government recognises their existence in the cooli line and its inclusion under the Panchayati Raj institutions, various welfare schemes of the central and state governments could not be implemented without the permission of the management. The rally in large numbers in Guwahati on 24th of November, 2007 was the outcome of these grievances that are being faced by the community during the last hundred years. The growing predominance of student politics in tea gardens and the downfall of trade unions are the major reasons of such upheavals against the state in the recent past.                                                                                                                                   On 5th of March, 2008 again hundreds of tea garden labourers representing various student organizations staged a dharna at Last Gate in Dispur, in the same place where the incident of 24th November 2007 took place for demanding immediate implementation of the Plantation Labour Act and the Minimum Wage Act. The protestor’s grievances were that over the past few years they have been receiving assurance from the government and nothing else.                                                                                                                                                                         A Department of Tea                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The tea economy is an integral part of Assam’s economy and it is the second largest after oil and gas industry in the state but no single institution is managing this industry during the last 150 years. The state government never looks at the tea industry as a part of Assam’s economy. The tea industry has a huge management system controlled from Kolkata. Although the Tea Board of India exclusively looks for the development of tea industry in the country, it always ignored the tea economy in Assam.                                                                                                In most states in India where organized plantation industry is dominating state economic activities, the state constituted a specific department for development of the industry as well as the workers. Particularly in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh where rubber and sugarcane are a major plantation industry, both the state governments have constituted a department to monitor, manage, and prepare policy documents for the future development of rubber and sugarcane respectively. Even in West Bengal, the state has a jute development department which is the apex organisation for monitoring the industry as well as labour.                                                                                                       In Assam, neither any department nor any other institution exists for the management of the industry as well as the welfare of labour at the state government level. Recently, the Chief Minister of Assam announced a new department exclusively for tea labour welfare which was welcomed from every quarter. But in order to modify this proposed department there is a need to incorporate the development of the industry as well as the development of the labour community.                                    The Department could regulate all the tea gardens in Assam (including the small tea growers) with new provisions in law for the promotion of tea productivity, quality of tea for export purpose, research for adapting new technology as well as sensitize the growers for organic tea production.                                                                                                     The department needs to provide facilities under the Plantation Labour Act (with new amendment) to implement central and state government welfare schemes in the cooli lines in the tea gardens. The schemes like social security of the tea garden labourers by providing insurance, post retirement policies, etc. could also be implemented under the department. The department could also initiate special economic packages in consultation with the Government of India to increase literacy, proper health system and drinking water, housing and sanitation, etc. The Department would have to prepare welfare schemes for the labourers, and negotiate with the management of the tea company for the improvement of the company’s production by investing more fund in both medium and small tea growers, providing new technology, helping more research as well as help to regulate and manage their activities.                                                                                                                   The state government also should constitute a tea garden development committee with representations from the local representatives, tea-garden management, and trade union leaders including the student leaders to monitor and initiate development works in each garden. Therefore, it would be better for the welfare of the labour as well as the economy of the state if the state government sets up a department called the ‘department of tea’. As majority of the tea gardens in the states are under the private sector, therefore, such type of monitoring as well as regulating agency is necessary to prepare a uniform policy for the growth of the tea industry as well as tea garden labour community.                                                                                                                                                   Conclusion                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The larger debate is that the tea garden labourer still exists as an indentured labourer in the 21st century raises the larger question of identity  in recent times. During the last 150 years, the tea community in Assam never received proper attention in the development process. If the community has raised their voice during the last decade by changing their approach, it is not only due to the lack of place among the greater Assamese nationalization process but also due to their own need to develop themselves. Living in enclaved habitats with distinct cultural identity, is preventing the community to identify themselves as part of the greater Assamese society. Counter to that identity emerges the Adivasi7 identity, particularly among those who have left the tea garden and are emerging as a section of tea garden youth who have received higher education and realised the need to develop the community and want to come out from this century long indentured practice. Subsequently, intra-community clashes with the Bodo community during the last 10 years in lower Assam forced them to consider their existence as an Adivasi and demanding special provisions to designate them as their community back home.                           It is observed that by receiving the special provision of ST status will not be of help to them to uplift their socio economic status, unless the Plantation Labour Act is amended. The community could get few more seats in the Lok Sabha and Assembly as well a few hundred would receive jobs and education if the community received ST status, but by this action, it will create an elite section of the community itself who could get benefits in the long run and make the rest remaining poor and under developed as earlier. Unless basic amenities are not provided in the tea garden cooli lines, there are no rationales to provide the ST status to the community at present. While the struggle for ST status may provide new momentum to the struggle of the identity politics in Assam to the tea garden community, which would also help in the vote bank politics in the coming elections, but utmost urgency at present is to address the socio economic development of the community at large.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        References:                                                                                                          ·  Barbora, Sanjoy, July, (1999), “Struggle in the Tea Planataion of Assam: Then and Now” in http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv5n1/teaplant.htm assessed on 7th January, 2008                                                                                                                ·  Bhowmik, S. K., “Productivity and Labour Standards in Tea Plantation Sector in India” in http://www.ilomirror.cornell.edu/public/english/region/asro/newdelhi/download/plant5.pdf, assessed on 7th January, 2008      · Gohain, Hiren, December 8, 2007. “A question of identity: Adivasi militancy in Assam”, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay. pp.13-16                                                                                              ·   Inter-Ministerial Committee On Plantation Sector Report submitted to the Union Labour Minister                                                                                    ·  Lahiri, Souparna, September (2000), “Bonded Labour and the Tea Plantation Economy” at http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv6n2/tea.htm assessed on 7th January, 2008                                                                                                   ·  Medhi, G. K. et al, December, (2006), “Study of Health Problems and Nutritional Status of Tea Garden Population of Assam”, Indian Journal of Medical Science, Vol.60. No.12. pp.496-505                                                                                 ·  Ministry of Commerce & Industry, 17thSeptember, (2007), Report of Committee on Legislation Plantation sector, Government of India, New Delhi.                               ·  Ministry of Law, Plantation Labour Act 1951 at http://nrcw.nic.in/shared/sublinkimages/19.htm                                                                                          ·  Misra, Udayon, December 22, (2007), “Adivasi Struggle in Assam”, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay. pp.11-14                                                                     ·  PIB, 18th August, (2003), Press release, Inter-Ministerial Committee On Plantation Sector Submits Report To The Union Labour Minister                             ·  Prabhakara, M.S. 2005. “Manufacturing identities?”, The Frontline, vol.22. Issue. 20. at http://www.flonnet.com/fl2220/stories/20051007002609500.htm assessed on 7th January, 2008                                                                                             ·   Rajya Sabha, December 19, (2003), The plight of tea garden workers, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi.                                                                                              ·  Raman, Vasanthi, (1992), “Child Labour in the Tea Plantations of North East India”, UNICEF and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi.                                                                                                             ·  Saikia, Biswajeet, (2006), Ways and Means: Improving the Socio- Economic Status of Tea Garden labourer in Assam, An Interim report to Ministry of Labour, Government of India, New Delhi                                                            ·    Xaxa, Virginius, (1996), “Living Conditions of Tea Estate Labourers in Assam”, in Sharit Bhowmik, Virginius Xaxa and M. A. Kalam, 1996, Tea Plantation Labour in India, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi.                                                                                                                                                                            Footnote:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Bhowmik, S K 2004. Productivity and Labour Standards in Tea Plantation Sector in India in http://www-ilo-mirror.cornell.edu/public/english/region/asro/newdelhi/download/plant5.pdf.p.140                                                                                            2. Saikia, Biswajeet. (2006), Ways and Means: Improving the Socio- Economic Status of Tea Garden Labourer in Assam, An Interim report to Ministry of Labour, Government of India, New Delhi                                                                                   3. Ministry of Commerce and Industries, (2007), op cit.p.17                                            4. Inter-Ministerial Committee On Plantation Sector Report submitted to the Union Labour Minister                                                                                                                                   5. Ministry of Commerce and Industries, (2007), op cit.p.35                                          6. Raman, Vasanthi, (1992), “Child Labour in the Tea Plantations of North East India", UNICEF and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi. p.10                                                                                                        7. Adivasi: though literal meaning of Adivasi is aboriginal or an indigenous person, in Assam Adivasi means the descendents of indentured tea labours including all the communities within it, like Santhal, Oraon, Munda, Khamer etc. brought by the British during nineteenth centur

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