Memorandum submitted to PM, MoEF, CM by BARAK UPOTYOKA SANGRAMI JOTE

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(Barak Valley Struggling Alliance)
Ref :                                                                                                                           Date : 29-02-2012


The Hon'ble Prime Minister
Govt. of India, New Delhi

Through The Deputy Commissioner,Cachar, Assan

Sub : Memorandum.


We, on behalf of the various constituent social organisations of ‘Barak Valley Struggling Alliance, would like to bring to your kind notice the following facts and the demand thereon for your perusal and immediate needful action. 

(1) (A) we demand the tea-wage parity in Barak & Brahmaputra Valley.
Bypassing the negotiation process initiated at the behest of State Labor Comissioner, the recent hike in Barak Valley tea-workers’ wage which has been declared through an unilateral agreement reached between a union and the tea owner’s association is in no way an upward movement of the wages to minimise the prevailing disparity, and it’s an arithmatical jugglery to hoodwink the people. Because in the year 2014, as per the agreement, when the wage of Barak Valley tea workers will reach to Rs75, the wage of Brahmaputra Valley workers will move to much higher level from the present and already enhanced wage of Rs. 76. Moreover, the tea-workers in West Bengal are also getting much higher wages than their counterpart in Assm against the same nature of work. This is gross violation of the principle of equal wages for equal work and these anomalies should be eradicated forthwith by maintaining parity in wages at least within Assam and a broad framework on task needs to be formulated.
(B) when the MGNREGA-workers who are considered as unskilled rural manual workers are getting the daily wage of Rs.130/worker, the present daily wage of tea-worker of Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam is too meager to maintain the livelihood. So the daily wage of tea-workers should be enhanced to at least the level of MGNREGA-wage.
(C) the 15th Indian Labour Conference held in 1957 stipulated that the need based minimum wage for all industrial workers should be calculated covering the food and living requirements of three units consumption. Under this guideline and in view of the present consumer price index (CPI), the tea-worker’s wage will be much more than the double of the existing wage. The resistance of the employer’s associations to consider 1.5 units instead of 3 units in case of calculating the tea-worker’s wage on the ground that the engagement of both male & female workers implies two earners in the family is absolutely unfounded & baseless. There are ample evidences contrary to their claim. Moreover, as the existing wage is much less than the half of need based minimum wage that would have been determined by the Wage Board under the guideline enshrined in the declaration of Indian Labour Conference and the exiting CPI, the workers are extra-economically coerced to accept less than bare minimum wage that would have been the actual wage, if calculated on the basis of the ill-founded logic of the employer’s too.

(2) It is to be noted with utter dismay of all concern that though there was an all India BPL-survey in the year 2007, no field-level BPL-survey has been held after 2002 in Assam. Even BPL-card has not been issued to all those families who are enlisted in 2002 survey. The 2012 BPL survey to prepar the list of BPL families has already been kick-started and in that event, we demand that the survey report must be verified through genuine and effective on-going process of Gramsabhas. Moreover, lot of drama have been orchestrated, lot of APL-BPL manipulation has been designed to hush up easy money, lot of food grains dumped to the houses of well-off having BPL-card, when the destitute failed to have one square meal a day for not having BPL card, and all these amply made it clear that the APL-BPL categorization for PDS system is highly ineffectual and unreliable. As per Arjun Sengupta Commission report, 77% of the population in India falls in the BPL category and the BPL population in this part of country will not be less, if not more, than this estimation. But here, a large number of families do not even have ration-cards, not to speak of BPL cards. For instance, the poorest of the poor slumdwellers in the suburb of Silchar do not have ration cards. Those who have APL/BPL cards in these districts of Barak Valley do get their full entitlements. A huge quantity of ration materials from the entitlements of the consumers is off-loaded from the supply chain of FCI-Coopertive-District Wholesale Agency-dealers, and siphoned off to the market, and this is time and again vindicated by the news of grabbing of unauthorised Tuck loaded with FCI-foodgrains. All the tea-gardens receive the ration-entitlements from the PDS chain in PDS price. But in most of the tea-gardens, the workers’ are getting poor quality and less than the entitled quantity of ration-materials. The inspection regime in the PDS system either utterly failed or disinterested to grab the culprit and to mend the loopholes. With this in view, we demand that
(A)            Universal PDS system should be put in place again to eradicate corruption and to ensure the BPL population to avail subsidized food grain. BPL list should be verified through gramsabhas.
(B) The ration cards should be immediately issued to all the valid applicants.
(C) Thorough and effective inspection, easy consumer complain mechanism at the dealer-end, quick grievance-redressal mechanism need to be put in place.
(D)            Garden-wise Inspection from both the labour (as the ration is wage-in-kind also) and supply department should be done on regular basis.
(E)  District, garden and village level monitoring public committees should be formed at your behest.
(F)  A thorough inquiry with public hearings of all the past misappropriation of PDS materials should be initiated. 

(3)  Though there is a huge mismatch between the official record of the NREGA implementation and the ground reality due to the manipulation of the implementing agency, even the official record shows that the implementation of NREGA is gradually deteriorating especially in Cachar District and dismal in all the three district of Barak Valley. The mechanism of manipulation cab be cited as (i) The mandays of work shown against the Jobcards issued to the well-off families are fictitious and recorded without the actual work done. (ii) employment sought, complaints lodged, unemployment allowance claimed etc are not registered properly and are not reflected in the website-record. (ii) machines are used and jobcard holders are engaged as contractual workers in the NREG-schemes without making any proper entry to the jobcard as well as MR. (iii) Innumerable complaints to the grievance redressal authorities are lying unattended. (iv) Formation of monitoring committes and the social audits are done through  fake Gramsabhas. In addition to the manipulative and corrupt practices, let us put the official record straight to vindicate our claim of dismal performance of the implementing agencies. In 2008-09, Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi recorded 3991, 40, 2 households respectively who were provided with 100 days of work, that recorded in 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 are 751-134-23, 172-245-163, 39-52-0 respectively. None in these three district received any unemployment allowance and many claims of jobcard-holders for unemployment allowance are lying at programme-officer or at other level without being processed to requisition fund from the state Government for payment. Among the three districts of Barak Valley, 2011-12 record shows that Hailakandi district with less population has spent much more fund (though it is also too measly an amount to meet the work demand)  than the other two districts and as such argument of scarcity of fund on the part of the lower bureaucracy is baseless and smacks of inefficiency or inertia syndrome of the implementing agencies, as the sanction of schemes and fund flow are the on-going process basing on demand. This fact-sheets speak volumes about the dismal performance and the insensitivity of the implementing agencies. Moreover, we are of the opinion that the rural people need 200 days of work and the guaranteed minimum wage to the tune of at least Rs. 200 considering the existing CPI.
With this in view, we demand that
(A)            The total days of work and wage should be enhanced to 200 days and Rs 200.
(B) The present stipulated 100 days of work must be ensured to all the job-seekers.
(C) Claim of un-employment allowance should be settled forthwith.
(D)            In addition to the Ombudsman, a district level committee comprising of the representatives from NREG-workrs’ union, social organisation, experts should be formed forthwith in consonance with the provision of the act and at the behest of the program co-ordinator  to monitor the NREGA-work and social audit.
(E)  Word level gramsabhas and social audit should be done on regular basis and with full transparency.
(F)  Block level physical audit must be intiated at the behest of programme officer taking into the complainant union/organisation into confidence.

(4) With deep anguish, we have observed that during recent days, lots of hue and cry are being registered, all opposing the construction of a 'water bomb' at Tipaimukh. A handful of protests have been witnessed in Manipur, Mizoram, Barak Valley of Assam, besides lot many from our neighbouring country, Bangladesh. We look at all these protests from the environmental and human point of view, sincerely believe that any force, that lacks in feeling for the environmental impact of the proposed dams should be dealt with severely. We sincerely like to draw your kind attention on the facts mentioned hereunder;
(A)    We sincerely believe that there should be an extensive downstream environmental impact study from the proposed dams site up to sea-mouth should be jointly conducted at the initiative of the Government of India and Bangladesh where experts from Non Government Organisations particularly from the environmental outfits, IITs and Universities must be included to asses the possible detrimental impact on the environment and life of inhabitants in the catchments areas at large. Without downstream impact study, if a clean-cheat to the projects are given it would be detrimental for both environment and people at large and struggling outfits of both in India and Bangladesh in particular. It is to be mentioned here that an expert committee was constituted to study the impact of big dams in Bramhaputra Valley alone, we are here like to request you Sir to form similar study team for investigating cumulative down stream impact in Barak Valley too.
(B)    the proposed dams fall at the confluence of Indo-Burma, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese Biodiversity hotspot zone. These areas are characterised by the presence of a large number plant and animal species, many of which are not seen or seldom witnessed in rest part of the world. A large number of them have been categorised as endangered and threatened as the IUCN Red Data book and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Once the dam is constructed, these innocent endangered and threatened species would have no other alternative, but to perish! Moreover many of the tribal people including Hmar, Naga, Kuki, Manipuri and others those who have been living there for generations will have to leave the place for ever. Under such a situation, does the construction of a dam in the proposed site speak quite well in favour of Biodiversity conservation?
(C)     We strongly believe and observe with deep concern that this rock filled 500 mts. long and 162.8 mt. high Tipaimukh dam to be constructed at the earthquake zone-V, Wherein there will be constant pressure of water, if for any reason cracks, the entire civilization of the whole of downstream will be washed down in no time. The age old Barak-Surma culture will live in history only. Can any force or technology prevent this and ensure against such catastrophic mishap?
(D)    Besides the above mentioned burning issues, other important impact like water scarcity, crop cultivation, navigation, siltation, ecological imbalance, river pollution, extinction of aquatic life forms and the like are never the less important frontier areas that deserve careful and serious attention, before construction of the dam.

                                                                                 Thanking You
     Yours faithfully
Signed By:-
  • Pijush Kanti Das, Committee on People's and Environment (COPE)
  • Nirmal Kr. Das, Asom Majuri Sramik Union
  • Sankar Dey, Barak Nagarik sangsad
  • Sanathoi Devi, All Assam Meira Paibi
  • Biplab Kr Goswami, Grahak Suraksa Samiti
  • Dilip Kr Singh, Hindi Bhasi Chatra Parisad
  • Pumeba Ai, Rajbangshi Samiti
  • Sahidul Haque Laskar, Kisan Bikhash Samiti,Ashu Kanti Sinha, AIDSO
  • Ranu Dautta, Barak Juba Sangsad
  • Neharul Alam Mazumder, Barak Human Right's Protection Committee
  • Rukhan Uddin Barbhuiya, KMSS 
  • S. Herajit Singh, AAMSU

Pijush Kanti Das;Pijush Das <> 
Secretary General;COPE
+91 9435522796
+91 9864372750

Dalit movement in the era of ‘globalization : An interview with Anand Teltumbde by Yogind Sikand

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                       Mumbai-based Anand Teltumbde is a leading scholar-activist, who has written extensively on issues related to caste, class, imperialism and ‘globalization’. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he reflects on the Dalit movement in the era of ‘globalization’.
[India Untouched : To those who claim there is no Castism in India! Research Documentary!]


Q: You have written extensively on what you regard as the crises facing Dalits and the Dalit movement in contemporary India, seeking to articulate a caste-class analysis of Indian society.  One of your major focuses has been the challenges Hindutva poses to the Dalits. You regard Hindutva as extremely inimical to Dalit interests and their struggle against ‘upper’ caste/class hegemony. Given, as you have written, Hindutva groups have made deep inroads among Dalits, how do you feel a progressive counter-cultural alternative can be presented to and popularized among Dalits in order to counter the attraction that Hindutva seems to offer them?
A: While Hindutva is a form of Brahminism and is definitely geared to suppressing the Dalits and serving the interests of the ‘upper’ caste/class elites, one should be clear that Hindutva is not entirely a cultural phenomenon. It is more of a political phenomenon. So, challenging Hindutva cannot be limited only to articulating a counter-cultural alternative, as some have sought to do in the name of Dalit identity-politics. Rather, Hindutva needs to be challenged politically.
As regards a counter-culture to Hinduism from the Dalit perspective, I am not sure if we have the resources for this or if sufficient attention has been paid to how to popularize this alternative given the immense hold of the Hindu framework. We may say, and rightly so, that the conflict between Brahminism and Shraminism, as represented by Jainism and Buddhism, has been present throughout Indian history. On this basis, we may invoke the Shramanic tradition to critique Brahminism. However, we also have to admit that despite the immense popularity of the Shramanic traditions for over 10 centuries, the Brahmanic castes have survived; nay they have thrived. How does one explain it? These religions—particularly Buddhism—did offer alternatives to Brahminism at the philosophical level but, despite this, caste as a social reality did not vanish. I think the same can be said of the conversion of Dalits to other religions as a means for liberation from caste oppression. Dalits have converted to Islam, Christianity, Sikhism to escape caste bondage of Hinduism but this did not make much difference to their lives. Caste has rather infected these seemingly egalitarian religions, keeping its Dalits at the lowest rungs. In objective terms, not much is changed for the converts. While they continue to remain Dalits for others, among themselves they appear to follow the same cultural paradigm laid out by the Hindu framework, albeit with cosmetic changes. Babasaheb Ambedkar did expect a new cultural paradigm for the Dalits based on scientific rationality, but it remained an unfulfilled dream like many others. That is perhaps why many Dalits in Maharahstra have, unfortunately, not been averse to joining hands with Hindutva forces. Even many well educated Dalits with some social recognition did not see anything wrong in jumping onto the RSS’s Samarasata platform which talked of the ‘unity’ or ‘assimilation’ of castes. Politically, Ambedkarite Dalits have been joining the Hindutva forces with impunity. The current alliance between Ramdas Athwale’s RPI and the Shivsena-BJP combine under the guise of Bhimshakti+Shivshakti is a case in point. The fact that there is not much opposition to such ideas and actions bespeaks volumes about alternative culture. So, I would say, the hegemonic influence of the Hindu or Brahminical worldview still remains, and Dalits, as a whole, continue to operate within that cultural framework.
Q: If that is the case, then what is the alternative in terms of a counter-cultural challenge to Hindutva?
A: I think the alternate is only possible from the Left—not the parliamentary Left that still appears to cling to the idea, notwithstanding their wordy acrobatics, that religion and caste are simply ‘superstructural’ issues or of little or no importance, but a Left that is rooted in Indian social realities and recognizes the salience of these issues. Fortunately, some sections of the radical Left is developing such an understanding organically. If Dalits also review their journey so far objectively, I am sure they also will reach similar radical understanding. That said, I do not negate the importance of culture in both perpetuating as well as challenging an oppressive system, but, at the same time, I disagree with some Dalit ideologues who insist that cultural revolution must necessarily precede political revolution. The two must go together, working in a dialectical fashion. Alternate cultures do not develop in vacuum, just by wishing for them. They are born in the process of peoples’ struggles over the material issues of their living—essentially politico-economic struggles. I am sure the counter-cultural to Hindutva will also emerge from these sorts of mass-based struggles. I don’t see it as a question of one preceding the other in time in a mechanical way.
Q: Some analysts argue that focusing mainly on the issue of reservations and critiquing Brahminism, which, of course are necessary, sections of the Dalit movement have ignored the material issues and concerns of the Dalit poor. Do you share that analysis?
A: There is considerable truth in that assertion. By and large, the Dalit movement has been led and controlled by urban-based petty bourgeoise Dalits, and has tended to neglect Dalits living in villages. If you consider the demographic profile of Dalits, you will find that Dalits are predominantly rural people; some 89 percent of them still live in villages. More than half of them are landless, 26 percent are marginal farmers and the rest are artisans. Of the 11 percent urban Dalits, a vast majority lives in urban slums and work preponderantly in the informal sector. Over the last six decades, a small layer—certainly not exceeding 10 percent of the total—has emerged out of them who could be considered as ‘arrived’, thanks to reservations, political nexus and their enterprise. This small layer, however, has effectively hijacked the agenda of the majority of the Dalits and revolved it around the single issue of reservation. It reflects the urban- and class-bias of the Dalit movement that has persistently ignored the issues of rural Dalits. Reservations did have a utility for the first generation of Dalits but thereafter it increasingly became the monopoly of those who have come up, leaving the really needy out of its reach. It is a widely acknowledged fact that the caste issue is entangled with the skewed distribution of land or the high incidence of landlessness of Dalits. Even Babasaheb Ambedkar, towards the end of his life, had realized this fact and influenced some of his followers to take up the first land struggle in Marathwada. Thereafter, Dadasaheb Gaikwad, who was his close confidant and perhaps real political heir, had led a countrywide struggle for land. But, thereafter, we never hear of the land issue being raised within and by the Dalit movement. Lack of land, quality education, non-farm employment, proper housing and sanitation are the material issues that have historically been related to Dalit deprivation, and these have only been aggravated by the elitist ‘globalization’ over the last two decades.  There is not a slightest reflection of these issues in the dominant Dalit discourse. Surprisingly, when reservations have effectively ended—statistically, from 1997 onwards the total employment in the public domain has been consistently decreasing—they shout louder about it.
So, yes, I sincerely think in the post-Ambedkar phase, the Dalit movement, driven by small elite among the Dalits, has completely ignored the material issues of most Dalits.
Q: But now that government jobs are rapidly shrinking in the wake of privatization and ‘globalisation’, which means that jobs for Dalits in the public sector are even more limited than they hitherto were, do you see a shift in the focus of the Dalit movement? Given that ‘globalisation’ and privatization are hitting the poorest of the poor, particularly Dalits, the most, is the Dalit movement responding by widening its concerns and addressing the challenges posed by globalization, thus moving out of what you consider as its major concern with reservations?
A: I do not see a major shift happening, barring the fact that Dalit groups are now demanding reservations in the private sector and curiously campaigning about ‘Dalit Capitalism’. This, once again, illustrates their elite, urban focus. I do not see them interrogating ‘globalisation’ and mobilizing Dalits against the havoc that is causing to the poor, leading to mass pauperization and rapidly widening social-economic inequalities. Statistics reveals that the incidence of landlessness has been increasing among Dalits during the last two decades of globalization. But, they are oblivious of these facts.  The question of land, or the issue of landless Dalits and their forced displacement by mega-projects, has been a virtual taboo in Dalit movement because most Dalit ‘leaders’ think it is a ‘communist’ issue. They have been programmed into believing that communists are their enemies! They have been fed on lies, by many Dalit intellectuals and leaders, that Babasaheb Ambedkar was viscerally opposed to communism as such—although it is well-known that Babsaheb did see the importance of land issue and was a confirmed socialist, as is evident from his monumental book States and Minorities. They have systematically constructed an Ambedkar icon sans the radicalism of Ambedkar, with superfluous embellishments of Ambedkar ideology, projected it as a virtual god-like figure to the Dalit masses, and invoking it in support of whatever they do. This icon is used and duly supported by the ruling classes to build a kind of ‘bhakti’ cult in the Dalit masses. Now, it is absolutely clear that Babsaheb hated the ‘bhakti’ cult around him and explicitly said that that he did not want bhaktas but sincere followers. This cult facilitated ‘brokers’ among Dalits to sell their wares in his name, and the Dalit masses simply bought their wares. This is the unfortunate paradigm that has degenerated the Dalit movement and has effectively thwarted sincere elements from coming up. It is entirely because of this that there seems to be little or no effort to re-read or contextualize Babasaheb’s thoughts in the contemporary context, including on issues related to class-based deprivation. At a time when the Indian state, Hindutva forces and the forces of imperialism are playing such havoc with the livelihoods of millions of Dalits, whose conditions are rapidly going from bad to worse, I see few Dalit groups taking these crucial economic issues seriously. Instead, they remain fixated on reservations—because this is a convenient populist slogan—and on invoking the name of Babasaheb while refusing to re-read him in the context of the contemporary situation of caste/class deprivation. 
Babasaheb Ambedkar said that he was against Brahmanism and not Brahmans, and even explained that Brahmanism could be found in any caste, including Dalits. Dalits have conveniently forgotten this essence and picked up the superficial. Today, the situation is such that groups whom they include in their Bahujans, the superset of Dalits, are the real perpetrators of atrocities on Dalits. They are the real baton holders of Brahmanism in villages. But this sort of political-economic analyses just do not appeal to Dalits, who are enamoured with identitarian discourse. To oppose Brahmanism is to be anti-caste; but to hate Brahmans is casteist. Paradoxically, swearing by Ambedkar, many Dalits today unconsciously reflect casteist behavior, and thus act against Ambedkar. 
That said, we must remember that the anti-materialist outlook of Dalits is actually born out of their encounter with the Left movement, which refused to acknowledge caste question as something basic to the class struggle in India. Babasaheb Ambedkar was no Marxist. He had genuine problems with Marxism but at the same time he ardently believed in socialism of the Fabian kind. This was a good enough basis for working together with the Left and enriching the strategy for class struggle in the concrete situation obtaining in this country. But the Left continued undermining Dalit movement and, in the process, completely alienated it. The onus thus squarely lies with the Left for the fact that today we are faced with the divergent, almost antagonistic, movements of the proletariat, bogged down with an idiotic duality of class and class.
The Left movement needs to rethink its perspective on the Dalit question. There is an urgent need for a dialogue between the Dalit movement and the Left, so that they can learn from each other and cross-fertilise each other. This will certainly help the Dalit movement in responding in a more appropriate manner to the changing nature of caste and helping it realize the importance of class issues and the need for class-based mobilization as well. I am uncomfortable with Dalit identity politics which only make the Dalit movement more sectarian and lead it away from the material problems, as experience shows. Caste as essentially a divisive category cannot viably serve even identity politics, not to speak of the goal of annihilation of caste. I am surprised that this basic understanding is yet to dawn on our social scientists as well as activists. 

Q: How do you assess the role of the Dalit media in raising and communicating these issues which you feel Dalit groups have failed to take up?
A: There is not much of a Dalit media actually. There are several small magazines and periodicals run by Dalits all over the country. Some of them do raise valid issues faced by Dalits, but many others are simply tails of this or that political group. This connection may not be always visible but it does exist in terms of direct or indirect support coming from these sources. During the last decades, a curious development took place in Maharashtra in this regard. Some Dalits started daily papers, one after another. Today, there are at least half a dozen full-sheet daily papers run by Dalits in Maharashtra. They do satisfy rhetorical need of having our own media. One does not know how their economics is managed, however, given that newspapers basically run on advertisement revenue, which is largely absent in their case. The content analysis of these newspapers does not indicate that they have significantly contributed raising the live questions of Dalits or catalysed any movement around it. They just meet the identitarian need of having ‘our’ own media.
I do not know whether a media owned and operated by Dalits could really be called a ‘Dalit media’.  Most of Dalit papers reflect the concerns and interests of their readership—the ‘reservationist’ middle-class—and that is why they deal mainly with religio-cultural issues, besides, of course, reservations. They pay little attention to the issues of rural Dalits. Many of them are averse to taking up economic issues or to considering the need for a contextually-rooted class-cum-caste analysis of Indian society. Basically premised on the identity of Dalits, they often ignore other issues.
The media reflects to some degree the state of our intellectual activism. The tragedy is that we have few organic intellectuals who can articulate the concerns and interests of the Dalit masses. Instead, we have a whole lot of cut-and-paste intellectuals whose only task, it seems, is to rehash what others have written before them, refusing to engage in any creative intellectual work. The Dalit media eventually mirrors it.
Q: In recent decades, a number of NGOs have taken up Dalit issues and concerns, and Dalits are one of their major ‘target’ groups. How do you see the impact of this NGO-isation process on the Dalit movement in terms of highlighting Dalit issues and empowering the Dalits?
A: In terms of highlighting, and even internationalizing, Dalit issues, I think many NGOs have played an important role. Even documenting Dalit problems and issues I think is a major contribution, giving that little of this sort was being done by others. But, beyond that, especially in political terms, I think that, barring some cases, the role of NGOs has been problematic. At a fundamental level, NGOs depend upon donors, and, according to the dictum “He who pays the piper calls the tune”, they have to eventually confirm to the agenda of their donors. And the fact of the matter is that NGOs have been deliberately promoted as a vehicle of ‘globalization’ in the context of the declining role of the state in the social sector. Naturally, then, NGOs work, by and large, to depoliticize radical people’s movements. They work in a fragmentary manner, taking up discrete issues, and this promotes fragmentary consciousness in people around them, which is what neo-liberalism wants. By remaining confined to funded projects, they inherently lack a macro political-economic perspective, which again serves the interest of global capital. Moreover, they also attract youths who might otherwise have gone into people’s movements or radical politics, by providing them salaries and job security, and in this way also work as agents of depoliticisation. You are right in terming this the NGO-ization of the Dalit movement. Before the Dalit movement could introspect on its degeneration, the influx of NGOs complicated the matters and made any such review extremely difficult.
Q: In your writings, you argue that ‘globalisation’ spells doom for Dalits. In this context, how do you see the argument, made by a group of Dalit ‘intellectuals’, who have been much-highlighted in the ‘mainstream’ media, of the need for the state and multi-national corporations to promote what they term ‘Dalit Capitalism’?
A: I think this argument is completely fallacious and dangerous. It buys into the imperialist logic, and is geared to serving the interests of foreign capital and the Indian ruling classes, who are well aware of the pauperisation of the Dalits and their mounting opposition to the system that is destroying their already shattered lives in the name of ‘development’. This slogan of ‘Dalit Capitalism’ is being actually sponsored by some Western organizations linked to global capital. There is not much of guess work needed to see who the sponsors and supporters of this idea are. As a matter of fact, the idea has been floated by a bunch of individuals who are projecting some Dalit entreprenneurs as though they were the new breed produced by globalization. And this is being propped up by the ‘mainstream’ media, which is otherwise shy of touching anything Dalit. The Economic Times has published a series of features on it, and the rank neo-liberalist Swaminathan Ankalesvaria Aiyer wrote several pieces extolling the idea. As for the Indian state, the Planning Commission, which otherwise refuses to move on the continued stealing of special component monies meant for Dalits, has been enthusiastically considering how to channel the public funds to these Dalit capitalists. It is a pity that Dalits do not see through the game and, instead, are getting enamoured with the idea because of their identitarian fixation.
I do not think there is anything intellectually appealing about the notion of ‘Dalit Capitalism’. I would rather say that this notion is itself a contradiction in terms and smacks of ignorance of both Dalits as well as Capitalism. The Dalit entrepreneur is not a new species. Dalits have historically been entrepreneurs, grabbing whatever opportunities that came their way and made progress. Rich Dalits are also not a new phenomenon. There have been many rich Dalit individuals since colonial times. So, to claim that Dalits have only started progressed now as a result of supposedly benefitting from ‘globalization’ is simple and pure falsehood. To impute the progress that a small number of Dalits have made in recent years to ‘Dalit Capitalism’ suggests is fallacious. Although, knowing the systemic character of capitalism, I would never be the votary of capitalism, I am not so dogmatic as to discard it either merely for ideological reasons. After all, there is a dialectics that will determine the time of its death. I do not have any quarrel, therefore, about Dalits becoming big capitalists and amassing their billions. But what irks me is this motivated attempt by the proponents of the notion of ‘Dalit Capitalism’ to create a patently false impression that Dalits have benefitted by ‘globalization’, that Dalits have now ‘arrived’, that Dalits have abandoned socialism and have embraced capitalism. The vast majority of Dalits still live in horrendous conditions in villages and urban slums as the wretched of the earth, and their conditions are, as I said earlier, going from bad to worse, rather than improving, as a result of the ravages of capitalism and ‘globalization’. The relative distance between Dalits and others on most developmental dimensions was reducing until the 1990s but the recent trends clearly show that the gaps are widening. By WHO standards of body-mass index, Dalits would be famine-stricken community. To speak about such people in terms of ‘Dalit Capitalism’ is nothing but an unpardonable cruel joke.
(Another link on East Bengal Migrant and Dalits in Bengal)
[Dalit woes and hope]

Tea Industry in Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam and The Plight of The Tea workers.

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The plight of the tea-workers of Assam especially of Barak Valley has drawn media attention following the report of the recent starvation death in Bhuvon Valley tea estate of Cachar District of Barak Valley (erstwhile Surma Valley in British India), and consequently various forces are agog with activism to gain a brownie point, but this is of course the positive result of sustained serious efforts from some quarters. The culmination of prevailing low wages, poor housing, acute malnutrition, lack of food security and healthcare facilities for the tea workers, and lack of avenues for social mobility, into the starvation-death is not unexpected and new episodic phenomenon for these workers whose relation with their employers resembles master-slave structure where the workers are de facto bonded labour in an enclave.

Other Such Example
In the month of Sept `03, report of starvation death in Gambhira Tea Estate in the Karimganj District of Barak Valley came out in the local dailies due to sudden abnormal increase of death rate, and question was also raised in the assembly in this regard. Ghambhira Tea Estate with three divisions namely oliviacherra, Kekragool and Gambhira is situated at Ratabari constituency of Karimganj District and few kilometers away from Dullavcharra Railway station. Its boundary is marked by reserve forest in the east, Singla river in the west, Phanaicherra in the north and  Bhuturpool in the south. In the year 1969-70, due to the property division within the family of the owner J.M.Agarwal of Kalimpang Tea Company Ltd., Sri Kagesh Mol became the owner and from that time onward the condition of the tea Estate started deteriorating. Initially there were 1200 permanent workers with additional casual workers. But Kagesh Mol lacked any business management acumen and he treated it not as an industry but as a landed property. He started leasing out land on payment for the settlement of non-worker families and these land later declared as ceiling-surplus land by the Govt. He took huge loan from Apex Bank and did not make any repayment. The condition of the workers alongwith the tea-garden started deteriorating, the numbers of workers started decreasing and the rights and benefit of workers started getting curtailed. In this situation, the Apex Bank took over the garden in the year 1983, and the then deputy commissioner of Karimganj District as receiver of the garden formed a committee, with himself being the Chairman of the committee, Dr. Sukumar Das, the doctor of garden hospital as vice president, Mr. Ramsankar Kamkar, a worker and Mr. Medhi, an employee, as secretary, Mr. Harsh Narain Baroi and others. This committee ran the garden for about 13/14 months during the period 1983-84, and as per the statement of various quarters including the workers, this committee ran the garden very well giving various benefits and facilities to the workers. In 1984, the total number of permanent workers are around 975 and the quantity of production of made tea was 2 lacs 90 thousand Kg/year(approx.). It is learnt that the committee had also made a good profit after meeting all expenditures, and this profit amount was handed over to the present owner.
 In the year 1984, the garden was handed over to Rangajaan tea plantation ltd. on lease with an agreement with S.P.Singhania of the company. This owner led the garden to doom by squeezing money allegedly through corrupt means, sacking the workers on flimsy ground, curtailing workers rights & benefits. From around the year 2000, the management started leaving the garden frequently without notice keeping it closed, and in this way almost all the provisions as per plantation labour act was shattered. Health facilities, rationing, repairing of quarters etc have gradually stopped altogether, wages and number of workers drastically got reduced.

Tea industry and workforce
Tea garden labour community of Assam represents around 20% of total population of the state accounting more than 45 lakhs tea garden labour population in the state . About 17% of workers in Assam are engaged in tea industry and around 50% of the total tea plantation workforce in Assam is women. In 1997, the state had 2470 tea gardens spread over 230 thousand hectares. Between 2006 and 2007, the state produced 476 million Kgs of tea. Presently, the state has large number of tea estates and 507 thousand  hectares of land. It shows that the state has increased tea production as well as tea cultivation substantially over a period of time. Only 30-40% are permanent workers. There are no maternity benefit schemes for the tea gardens workers. It has been observed that during pregnancy and post natal period, women continue to engage in hard jobs. Most allegation of child labour(Lerka Dopha) in the tea industry involve the function of plucking, weeding, hoeing, and nursery work. Assam is the second commercial tea production region after southern China. The tea plantation in the Barak Valley (earlier Surma Valley during British period) was taken up after the annexation of Cachar in 1932. It is reported that for the first time tea gardens in Barak Valley were started in 1855 at Bursangaon and Gungurpar. Subsequently it was developed in Kathal, Silicoorie and Arcattipore and in many other places near Silchar. By the first quarter of the 20th century as many as 100 gardens were established in Barak Valley. During the nineteenth century, Cachar tea was holding the top position in production among the districts of Assam but since then the balance dramatically reversed. According to the recent statistics, this valley has 112 tea gardens, out of which 6 are sick and remaining are producing green leafs and made tea. A. Sen of Assam University in his Ph. D thesis studied on sick industries of Barak Valley and reached to the conclusion that ‘mismanagement’ and ‘less investment’ as the two principal factors behind the sickness of the tea gardens in Barak Valley.

The closure of Garden and Government machinery
The Government machinery and the local administration are not sensitized to take appropriate measures in the event of the closure or abandonment of the garden by the owner to take measures on the basis of the Supreme Court guideline and punitive action against the defaulting owner on the basis of the existing provisions of the various acts. Taking the advantage of this lax on the part of Government, the planters psychologically pressurize the workers to curtail the bargaining capacity of the workers with the threat of closure/dissertation or temporarily resorting to impose these measures. The established union bosses in tow with the management and the political masters continuously instill a fear-psychosis in the minds of the workers about impending situation of extreme form of abject penury in the event of closure or dissertation of the garden by the management. The guaranteed livelihood for the workers and ensured punitive action against the owners resorting to the means of closure as pressure-tactics from the Government would have led the workers out of this compelling mindset to submit to the injustice meted out to them. The parallel existence of on-going NREGA-programme could have also boosted up the morale of the workers. But the planters on the ground of shortage of casual-labourers who will prefer NREG-work to the tea-garden-work for getting higher wage, and the administrative machinery being involved in corrupt practices are averse to implement NREGA properly. So there is a nexus of the management, Union bosses who are engaged in various types supply/contract works in the tea-gardens, the political masters of the union or section of administrators who are either insensitive or busy earning easy money. However, the workers are getting restless due to the dwindling livelihood-security with measly wage and becoming ready to strike back even with the possibility to bear the brunt of factory closure.

Few such examples
To describe such situation and to expose the administrative lax, few glaring examples can be cited. The Hathikhira tea estate is situated few kilometers away from Patherkandi town having four sub-division viz. Hathikhira, Solgoi, 8 no. & 20no. line. The owner of the garden is Kanoria brothers of Hanuman Texnit & Industries ltd., Kolkata. Total production of tea leaf in the year of 1996 was around 10.5 lakh kg and at the end of 2007, quantity was around 14 lakh kg. On the other hand the total number of permanent workers reduced drastically. At the end of 2007, there were only 550 & 240 numbers of permanent workers in Hathikhira & Solgoi division respectively. There were rampant violation of plantation labour act with regards to health, sanitation, drinking water, housing facility etc and minimum wage ac,t and before the year 2004 the cash wage was only Rs. 38, though as per tripartite agreement it should be Rs. 46.25. In the month of April 2004, workers of this garden went to strike with a demand to increase their wage and the management fled away. After 42 days of intense negotiation, the garden was reopened with an agreement to increase the wage to Rs. 44 with an increase of plucking task from 18kg to 21kg. This increase of wage is very much marginal considering the increase of task & system of round in the tea-bush. Moreover, the management immediately after the opening of the garden started of backtracking from implementing the other agreed commitments.
 Derby Tea Estate under Derby Plantation Pvt. Ltd. was declared lock-out on 5th August 2007 on the plea that the Union and the Bagan Panchayat members had not withdrawn the FIR filed against alleged perpetrators who are responsible for the murder of Sri Deo Chand Muda, a permanent worker of Derby Tea Estate through unprovoked firing on 19th July 2007 by the security Guard of the Superintendent and other managerial staffs in their presence and under direct instruction from them.
It was mentioned in the lockout notice that lawlessness - assault on the managerial staffs - illegal confinement etc by the workers resulted in the collapse of the administrative structure of the garden. That these allegations were not the actual cause of the lockout revealed by the fact that the Derby tea industry was smoothly in operation for many days from the date of occurrence of incident of the murder of Sri Deo Cand Muda, a permanent worker till 5th August 2007. Moreover the Director, Derby Plantation private Ltd. categorically mentioned the main cause of declaration of lockout as the non-withdrawal of FIR by the factory unit of the union and Panchayat members. The management was solely responsible for deterioration of law and order situation through the murder of the said innocent worker. Actually, there was a spontaneous outburst of the angst and anger of the workers against the management. During the lockout period, the administration did not take immediate measures under Supreme Court guidelines. Similar phenomenon was noticed when the Arunabond Tea Estate of Udharbond block of Cachar Disrict was declared lockout in the month of march, 2007 to suppress the workers demand of their due payment. In all these cases, the administration procrastinates in imposing the Supreme guidelines for the closed gardens, and this gives ample time to the established garden-level union bosses to instill a defeatist sense in the minds of the agitating workers who under the pressure of the situation of livelihood-insecurity lean backward to accept a negotiated settlement with measly benefit extended by the owners, and thus the anger of the workers are pacified and absorbed by the nexus which remains in-tact to have a overwhelming control over the workers. If the Supreme Court guideline is imposed immediately after the closure or abandonment of the garden, the oft-repeated use of the weapon of the threat of closure dangling over the head of the workers gets blunted. The honourable Supreme Court has declared the right to food & work as the statutory right of the Indian People through an interim order on the writ petition of PUCL (no. 196/2001) and issued a directive to make the following facilities available for the workers and staffs of closed garden : (1) the work of atleast 15days per month with daily wage of Rs 62.00 both in cash and in kind for each worker under SGRY scheme. (2) 21 kg of food grains for each family under Antodoy Anno Yojona. (3) monthly allowance of Rs 500.00 for each worker. (4) weekly health camp in the garden (5) provision of good drinking water etc during the period of lockout.

The reverse migration
The workers’ plight in the Assam tea gardens is best revealed by a news titled ‘the reverse migration – a worrying trend for Assam tea industry’ appeared in 7th August, 2011 issue of The Hindu.  The news states that about 300 tea garden workers of an estate in Assam have left their jobs and gone back, along with their families, to their ancestral places in Telanagana in search of greener pastures. Captains of the 180-year-old tea industry in the state are worried that such reverse migration is likely to aggravate the problem of shortage of labor, which the industry has started experiencing. Chairman of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) Bidyananda Barkakoty revealed this trend during his speech at the biennial General meeting of the association held in the upper Assam of Golaghat. This reminds us the historical incident of ‘Chorgola Exodus’. Amalendu Guha in his “Planter-Raj to Swaraj : FreedomStruggle and Electoral Politics in Assam, 1826-1947 writes: The Chargola exodus, though a well known historical episode, awaits further analysis as a social phenomenon…. An economic struggle culminated into mass political action in the form of a collective escape from the bonded labour system. The exodus was an open revolt, a primitive action against the legitimised conditions of serfdom. It was the product of an interaction between the Gandhian impact on primitive minds and the incipient class militancy. To cut expenses and avoid depression on the eve of a severity of depression in the tea industry during the early post-war years, many planters retrenched their labour force and introduced short workings for those retained especially in Surma Valley (present Barak Valley). The disappointment of the worker was great, and specially so when he saw what was happening to the local railway employees who had obtained a wage rise after successful strike action. Strikes and other industrial action were not unknown to the tea workers of Assam. After the war these protest movement were more carefully organised. In the post-war period, Assam was no longer a remote region; there was much movement of workers from Assam to other parts of India, and many of them were becoming aware of opportunities elsewhere. These developments, favourable to a worker’s movement, can be taken as sufficient explanation of the ‘exodus’ from the Chorgola Valley’.(Coolie Exodus from Assam’s Chorgola Valley, 1921 – An analytical Study, Kalyan K Sircar, EPW, January 31, 1987). In the backdrop of an emerging countrywide working class struggle, and in the event of any partial success, this time around the tea-workers of Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam will not resort to mass-migration but to revolt against the oppressive capitalist class and power-that-be.

Facts of tea-business and disinformation capaign
There is a disinformation campaign making round among the urban middle class as well as among all the stake-holders of tea-industry. This campaign of the ‘industry-running-in-loss’ is meticulously orchestrated by the captains of indutry in tow with the established union. But the reality is revealed in the fact-sheet of the Tea Board and the year book of Guwahati Tea Auction Committe. In 1997, the state had 2470 tea gardens spread over 230 thousand hectares. Between 2006 and 2007, the state produced 476 million Kgs of tea. Presently, the state has 507 thousand  hectares of land under tea industry. It shows that the state has incresed tea production as well as tea cultivation substantially over a period of time. Guwahati tea auction committee (GTAC) yearbook (2006-07) report  shows that total quantity sold in mkg and average price in Rs of tea in auction market has gradually increased from 98 mkg and Rs. 27.25 respectively in 1984-85 to 149 mkg and Rs. 68.06 in 2006-07. There was steep rise in price to Rs. 100.18 in 2007-08 from previous year price of Rs. 68.06. Steep rise in both quantity and price were recorded in the 1999-2000 and gradual marginal fall up to 2002-03. Otherwise, the record shows exponential growth and increase in both quantity and price. Record shows that there are few brokers and registered buyers who monopolistically control the auction market. They use to rag the price by way of some power in the auction centre. So the variations recorded in the period between 1999 to 2003 may be due to the manipulation of demand by certain big buyers. Moreover, the major quantity of orthodox tea is sold in the Kolkata auction market for better price. In the 5th annual report 2007-2008, the internal consumption of tea in the country has been estimated at 786 mkg in 2007 as against 771 mkg in 2006 showing an increase of 15 mkg over 2006. Few tea gardens in this locality also getting good price by directly selling packaged tea to the local consumer market. The quality of the CTC variety of tea in Barak valley is also good. It is one of the finest teas that are produced in Assam. Assam tea is grown at elevations near sea level, giving it a malty sweetness and an earthy flavour, as opposed to the more floral aroma of highland like Darjeeling.  Cachar tea was holding the top position in production among the districts of Assam in the nineteenth century but since then the balance dramatically reversed due to mismanagement, less investment and the cuture of the planters to hush up easy money through extraneous means.

Hue and cry of the Planters and the dismal performance
Tea industry has recently called upon the Assam Government to reduce the land revenue rates and cess on leaf. This explains the mindset of the captain of the industry to run the industry with the support from public money to earn super-profit, instead of making necessary investment for new plantation, and managing the garden with business ethics. It is worth-mentioning here that in the tea gardens, the land revenue rate in the Brahmaputra valley is Rs. 22 per bigha and it is Rs. 16 in the Barak valley. A recent  PIL-petition filed in the Supreme Court claimed that the Centre's Rs 4,000-crore revival package was only enriching the owners. Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves told a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices P Sathasivam and J M Panchal that though the wage arrears in 55 sick tea gardens, of which 30 were in Assam and 14 in West Bengal, totalled a meagre Rs 300 crore, the owners were not paying the dues and were taking advantage of the revival package only to swell their coffers. Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam assured the bench that the government was working in close coordination with the Tea Board to ensure basic amenities to tea garden workers through centrally-funded anti-poverty schemes. According to the chart supplied to the court by Gonsalves, Assam virtually conceded that there was a serious problem relating to payment of wage arrears in almost all the 30 sick tea gardens in the state. It also admitted death of 99 workers in tea gardens that lacked healthcare facilities. Gonsalves said, "These tea gardens are sick in every sense of the term — workers engaged for part of the week, not paid full wages, PF not deposited with the PF commissioner, gratuity not paid to workers even after working for more than 10 years." Gonsalves pleaded with the court to direct the Centre to at least start ration shops and give BPL cards to these workers who were starving and also to provide them the guaranteed 100 days work in a year under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

New dimension in Union movement
The Asom Mojuri Srameek Union, an outfit of unorganised, rural, tea and other industrial workers, and affiliated to New Trade Union Initiative, added a new dimension to the tea workers’ union movement. On the one hand this Union is supporting the identity and linguistic rights of tea community, struggling for the implementation of NREGA and facilities of PRI and pressurising the Government authority to discharge their responsibility in case of closure of the garden and to take action against the defaulting planters in making their due payment of PF, wage, bonus etc and the Union, on the other hand, is striving hard to build the workers’ movement for enhancement of wage, for minimum wage and for the implementation of the provision of plantation labour act 1951 (with new amendment). The first cluster of issues will give the workers the necessary space for mobility to enable them to assert working class rights. That’s why, the planters, the established union bosses and the lower bureaucracy dipped in corruption are averse to NREGA-implementation in tea-gardens. Not only the casual workers, the family of the permanent workers are also entitled to get job-cards by which the family members other than the permanent workers can demand NREG-work. Though the tea-gardens areas have been brought under the jurisdiction of PRI (Panchayatiraj Institution), the tea-garden owners call the shot through NOC (No Objection Certificate) system which enable the garden owners to control the PRI schemes as well as the selection of beneficiaries. However, the stipulated rules of PRI provides the guideline to select the beneficiaries through Gramsabhas, but this provision of peoples’ empowerment is grossly restrained in the garden areas by the criteria of obtaining NOC from garden owners in implementing any scheme including IAY.

Wage Struggle
The Mojuri Srameek Union participating in the tea-wage negotiation expressed their viewpoint basing on which they are spearheading a wage struggle. According to the union spokesperson, (1) when a tea worker of Brahmaputra Valley is getting the wage of Rs.72 a day in cash in addition to the 3.25 Kg of cereals per week food-grains at 40 P a Kg and free wood for fuel that added up to an amount of not more than Rs.20 a day, a tea-worker of Barak Valley is getting a measly amount of around Rs.55 a day in cash. Moreover, during the every wage-increase on the basis of the stipulated slab-wise increment, the increase of real wage is offset and lowered cunningly by simultaneously increasing the task (Nirikh). This is gross violation of the principle of equal wages for equal work and these anomalies should be eradicated forthwith by maintaining parity in wages and by framing a broad framework on task (2) when the MGNREGA-workers who are considered as unskilled rural manual workers are getting the daily wage of Rs.130/worker, the present daily wage of tea-worker of Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam is too meager to maintain the livelihood. So the daily wage of tea-workers should be enhanced from the existing Rs.55 to at least the level of MGNREGA-wage (3) the 15th Indian Labour Conference held in 1957 stipulated that the need based minimum wage for all industrial workers should be calculated covering the food and living requirements of three units consumption. Under this guideline and in view of the present consumer price index (CPI), the tea-worker’s wage will be much more than the double of the existing wage. The resistance of the employer’s associations to consider 1.5 units instead of 3 units in case of calculating the tea-worker’s wage on the ground that the engagement of both male & female workers implies two earners in the family is absolutely unfounded & baseless. There are ample evidences contrary to their claim. Moreover, as the existing wage is much less than the half of need based minimum wage that would have been determined by the Wage Board under the guideline enshrined in the declaration of Indian Labour Conference and the exiting CPI, the workers are extra-economically coerced to accept less than bare minimum wage that would have been the actual wage, if calculated on the basis of the ill-founded logic of the employer’s too.
Union further states that the rate of wages fixed in the recent tea-agreement of West Bengal may also be considered for the tea workers of Assam and a VDA component needs to be incorporated in wage-structure because rate of VDA varies with the variation of consumer price and thus the workers will get a price protection against the deteriorating food security to maintain their daily livelihood consumption.
Two-pronged strategy
The NTUI affiliated Asom Mojuri Srameek Union’s two-pronged strategy of building struggle for tea workers’ right will evidently usher in a new dimension to this important union movement which will open up the possibilities of taking the workers’ consciousness to a new height.

Starvation death in Bhuvon Valley and its implication
There are divergent views on the number of deaths in the Bhuvon valley tea estate among different unions and organizations. However, they are in agreement that these deaths are to be considered as starvation death and it’s the fall out of long deprivation and dehumanization that resulted in acute mal-nutrition in general, and subsequent closure of the garden and the negligence of the Government inspection regime have altogether stopped the supply line of all the livelihood support system. But owner with a defiant note claimed that this is not an incident of starvation death. So a magisterial enquiry has been set up by the district administration. But it is not clear how a magisterial enquiry can go into the details of the causes of starvation death.
The NTUI affiliated Asom Mojuri Srameek Union has stated in its memorandum submitted to all concerned that they are dismayed by the facts revealed by their own union source and the local vernacular media about the starvation deaths in the tea-gardens of Bhuvon Valley Tea Company in Lakhipur Sub-Division of Cachar District due to the complete failure of PDS and other facilities to be guaranteed to workers of the closed garden as per the Supreme Court guideline and the prevailing chronic abject malnutrition among tea-workers’ family members in all the  tea-gardens in general. It is learnt that prior to the closure of the garden, workers were neither paid their cash daily wages nor provided their entitlements of ration as wage-in-kinds since long. Workers were also not provided with other facilities like healthcare etc since long. This is an extreme case of gross negligence and violation of rules within the overall prevailing situations of poor quality and less than the entitled quantity of ration provisions and poor healthcare facilities for the workers in most of the tea-gardens under the garden-management who are recalcitrant towards any change for the better. This PDS is important on two different counts – firstly, it is the part of the worker’s wage as wage-in-kinds, and secondly, it is also an overall societal issue as the public money is involved.
Union has, in its memorandum, elucidated this particular case of Bhuban Valley Tea Company, and these two issues of PDS and medical facilities in general point by point.
(1) The owner has dodged their obligation to deposit the workers PF to the PF-fund. It is surprising to note that the district administration has failed to nab the person against whom the license for the company was issued. The data obtained through RTI-petition also reveals that many tea gardens authorities of Barak Valley in addition to this particular tea estate failed to oblige the provisions of paying the contribution etc under Assam Tea Plantation Provident Fund Scheme Act, 1955 and thus attract clause 43 of this act for the punishment of the defaulting owners. (2) A long time has already been elapsed since when the garden management has not been providing the ration and the medical facilities to the workers. Though the management has acted ultra-vires by suspending the PDS and medical facilities under NRHM, the inspection/surveillance procedure under PDS and NRHM has utterly failed to warn them and bring them to book. These gross violations have gone unnoticed to the appropriate authorities that are responsible to ensure proper implementation. This gross failure of monitoring and surveillance, and the failure to compel the management to abide by the stipulated rules have caused the loss of nine lives of tea workers who embraced the consequence of starvation situation. This arrangement of NRHM is in addition to the obligations of the planters to provide medical facilities mentioned in the Chapter III, article 10 of the plantation labour act, 1951. This provision under the labour act is also being rampantly violated in most of the tea-gardens.
Moreover, in this particular case along with similar cases in many other tea-gardens, they attract the provisions of sub-clause (c) & (d) of clause 16B and sub-clause (b) of clause 16E of Tea Act for default in the payment of wages, provident fund etc, and for managing the industry in such a manner highly detrimental to tea industry and/or public interest, and in the event of the closure of the garden for more than 3(three) months respectively. (3) In almost all the tea-gardens, the quality and quantity of ration commodities provided to the workers are deplorable. Under the existing system (as the stay order has been issued by the honourable High Court against the new system to be introduced by the state Government to treat the manager as ration dealer), it is the tea industry which has taken upon itself the task of public distribution for its labourers. The allotments of rice and wheat are made in favour of tea industry associations centrally by the directorate of food and civil supplies, and thereafter, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) makes district wise allocation based on the government allotments. The agent of the association of the planters receive the allotted quantity of food grains entitled for the workers directly from the FCI on PDS prices and then issued to the workers by the garden authority who subsidized it further to charge 54 paisa per Kg from the workers. The difference of PDS price and the price acquired from the workers are treated as the workers’ wage in kind. But in actual practice, this wage-in-kinds is claimed to be much higher than actual,- and thus the workers are deprived in two-pronged manipulating technique. However, as the public money is involved in the tea-garden PDS over and above the technique of artificially lowering the real wage of workers, the failure of the inspection/surveillance needs to be thoroughly investigated. (4) Under the PPP-model of NRHM, the tea-garden owners who have reached to an agreement with the Government represented by respective Deputy Commissioner, the owner is receiving Rs.15 lakhs per annum to provide the medical facilities to the workers. Under the Plantation Labour Act, the planters are duty-bound to provide the medical facilities on their own. The tea-garden managements who are receiving additional amount of money earmarked against the NRHM project are not properly utilizing this amount and are resorting to unethical means to gobble up the money. Here also, it is a public issue of lack of surveillance and inspection by the appropriate authority. (5) The skewed policy decisions, severe deprivation and discrimination meted out to the workers by their employers and the failure of the administrative machinery to compel the planters to abide by the existing laws of the land have an immediate bearing on the overall community health and nutrition. The case study conducted by G. K. Medhi, N. C. Hazarika and J. Mahanta of Regional Medical Research Centre, N. E region (ICMR), Dibrugarh, Assam on nutritional status of adolescents in tea-gardens workers reveals that the almost half of the adolescent of tea workers are stunted and most of them are thin. Problems of overweight is seen in less than 0.5% of adolescent. Factors typical to underdeveloped society seems to contribute moderate to high prevalence of under nutrition among adolescents working in tea gardens. Another study conducted by G. K. Medhi, A. Barua, J. Mahanta of Reginal medical research Centre, N. E. Region, Indian Council of Medical Research and Community Medicine Department, Assam Medical College, reveals a high prevalence of malnutrition among the school age children in the tea garden workers of Assam and the nature of malnutrition indicates that causes of malnutrition are not only recent but also long term deprivation. This land us to the general conclusion that low wage vis-à-vis the overall low family income, lack of food security and healthcare facility and other civic amenities are heavily contributing to the dismal situation of nutrition and health. The only remedy in sight is to declare all of the tea-garden families as BPL to enable them to avail the Government beneficiary schemes.

The incident of the death in Bhuvon Valley tea estate reveals the tip of the iceberg of prevailing abject poverty and malnutrition among the tea workers of Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam. The whole gamut of this industry is in doldrums due to the attitude of the planters to extract super-profit through extraneous means and depriving the workers, and the skewed vision of the Government policy makers as well as the laxity of administrative inspection regime. An all out effort need to be organized to ensure smooth functioning of the industry as well as to establish the rights of the workers and to build a wide struggle with a future vision of just society. This workers being the largest section of total workforce in Assam, will decide the fate of the working class and democratic movement in Assam.

Addendum on 23-08-2014
(1)   The minimum wage schedule officially announced by the state government reveals that the plantation workers are also included in the schedule which is effective up to 31st august, 2014 and accordingly the minimum wage circular being issued by the labour commissioner bi-annually considering the VDA component is also applicable for tea-workers of Assam. According to this schedule, the minimum wage for unskilled tea-workers is Rs.169 up to 31st August, 2014 and Rs. 184 w.e.f 1st September, 2014. The current wage settled through bipartite negotiation is of the tune of Rs. 94 for Brahmhaputra valley garden and Rs. 75 for Barak valley gardens for wage in cash. Many gardens pay less than this negotiated wage too. As per the information provided by the Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association(ABITA) on the daily labour Cost in Assam from 1st  April 2011 to 30the  June 2012, the wage component in cash is Rs.74.50, wage component in kind is Rs. 22.40, Statutory expenditure under Plantation Labour Act is Rs.23.79 and under common statutory expenditure like Provident fund, Bonus, gratuity etc is Rs. 25.67 and total comes to Rs.146.36 per day per worker. ABITA calculation says that 16.25% of the total labour cost of Rs.146.36 as on June 2012 is on account of meeting the statutory provisions under the PLA (Plantation Labour Act) - housing facilities, medical facilities, welfare facilities, national (festival) holidays, sickness benefits, earned leave, educational facilities and maternity benefits. While for employers these are cost enhancing, for workers these are inadequate to raise their standard of living. This reckoning has increased marginally under the present wage structure. Against the writ-petition nos. WP(C) 5481 of 2011 and 70 others clubbed together on Tea Garden matter, the honourable Guwahati high court upheld the unanimous resolution of the employers, employee and the state representatives in the meeting held on 25.10.2010. In the said meeting, it was unanimously resolved and /or determined that the cash value of food-grains supplied at concessional rates to the workers is Rs.14.20 per day. It was pursuant to such resolution / consensus, the Govt. of Assam in  the Labour and Employment department, issued the impugned  notification dated 1.12.2010, exercising his power and jurisdiction under Section 3(i)(b) read with Section 5(ii) of the Minimum Wages  Act. Section 2(h) of the ATPPF Scheme Act, 1955 defines ‘Wages’ as any amount capable of being expressed in terms of money for the time being payable to an employee by the employer for works and / or in connection with a plantation and includes DA, value of food concession, amount payable for plucking, whether calculated at time or basis rates or otherwise, and leave with wages and maternity allowance  or benefits but does not include (a) bonus, or (b) commission. As per the meeting held on 25.10.2010 in which the representatives of the Government in the Labour and Employment  Department and the representatives of employers and employees  participated, the  fixation of Rs. 14.20 per day as wage in lieu of concessional food  grains is common to the Tea Estates of both  the Valleys. So by the definition of wage as per this Section 2(h) mentioned above, the present wage, if calculated on the basis of ABITA’s reckoning, will not be more than Rs. 120 for Brahmaputra Valley workers and Rs 105 for Barak valley workers. This wage is far less than the wages declared by the state government in the minimum wage schedule. The other factors of statutory expenditure can only be taken into account for wage calculation only under living wage which will be far more than the minimum wage announced by the state government.

(2)    Currently, tea gardens procure wheat and rice at subsidized rates – Rs 8.36 per Kg and Rs. 6.10 per Kg respectively from government quota. It is provided at 54 paise per Kg to workers. A garden worker, as per official norms, gets 3.2 Kg, half of which is rice and other half wheat, per week. An adult dependent and minor dependent get 2.44Kg and 1.22Kg of foodgrain respectively per week. But the women workers who constitute the majority of the manual workers get the ration of two minor dependents only. The state government has been providing 7,600 tonnes of rice and 5,000 tonnes of wheat each month to the tea garden at subsidized rates.
Under the food security act, a beneficiary (each member of the family) will get 5Kg of rice per month at Rs 3 per Kg through the food and civil supply department, which will supply the ration to fair-price shops across the state. To avail the benefit, a beneficiary’s annual earnings will have to be below Rs 1 lakh and priority will be given to daily-wage earners. So the tea worker’s family will be beneficial if the whole amount of their entitled minimum wage is paid in cash, and as per the above criteria, they all are brought under the net of FSA.

(3)    The statutory rights under the Plantation Labour Act are rampantly violated due to lack of proper inspection. The inspectors have kept their inspections limited to specific complaints instead of conducting regular inspections. A presentation by A K Malakar, the previous labour commissioner of Assam notes that inspection in the tea estates is done at the consent of the management, when the department is not in a position to provide means of transportation, the management takes an advantageous position in providing vehicles and therefore inspections cannot be impartial. Therefore management escapes prosecution even for grave violations. Penal provision of Rs 500 is ludicrous and is not a deterrent. So PLA, Assam Scheme must be implemented effectively by giving necessary tooth for punitive action for violations of its provisions.

স্বাভিমান:SWABHIMAN Headline Animator

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