Amidst the electoral debate over the tea garden workers’ wages during the ongoing campaigning for the Assembly polls, the Gauhati High Court has given the liberty to the tea estates to pay higher wages till the issue is finally decided by the court.
A court official said on Wednesday that the High Court in its interim order has provided the liberty to the tea estates to pay to the workmen any interim enhancement of their wages they deem proper till the issue is finally decided by the court.
The order comes after the Indian Tea Association (ITA) and 17 tea companies that own over 90 per cent of the tea estates in Assam, had filed a petition against the Assam government’s notification to hike the daily wages of the regular 7,46,667 tea garden workers by Rs 50 per day from Rs 167 to Rs 217.
The High Court’s Justice Michael Zothankhuma in his order on Tuesday said that the “court is of the view that liberty should be given to the petitioners (ITA) to pay to the workmen any interim enhancement of their wages as they deem proper, till the issue is finally decided by this Court.” The matter is listed for the next hearing on April 23.
The issue of higher wages of 10 lakh tea garden workers in Assam is one of the biggest election topics before the three-phase Assam assembly elections beginning on March 27.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, which after coming to power in 2016 had increased the wages of the tea workers by Rs 30. O February 20 the state government decided to hike the daily wages by Rs 50 — from Rs 167 to Rs 217.
The Gauhati High Court in its last week’s order upheld the ITA’s argument that the wage hike was “illegal” as no committee or sub-committee had been formed, as required under relevant sections of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
Accusing the BJP government of not increasing the daily wages of the tea garden workers, the Congress, which is contesting the Assembly polls with nine other parties, recently announced five “guarantees” for the people to be fulfilled if the party comes to power, including raising the tea workers’ daily wages to Rs 365 from the existing Rs 167.
Congress leaders alleged that Prime minister Narendra Modi had promised to revise the daily wages of tea garden workers in Assam to Rs 350 prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The All Assam Tea Tribes’ Students’ Association (AATTSA) has announced a shutdown of all tea gardens on March 22 alleging a neglectful attitude towards the tea workers of Assam. AATTSA President Dhiraj Gowala said that all governments have failed to address the problems of the tea workers. “We, before the elections, would apprise the people how the injustice has been done to the tea workers by the incumbent BJP, previous Asom Gana Parishad and Congress governments,” Gowala told IANS.
On February 6, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had distributed Rs 3,000 each to 7,46,667 tea garden workers in Assam under the ‘Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Mela’ scheme.
The scheme was started by the Assam government in 2017-18 and that year Rs 2,500 each was provided to 6,33,411 tea garden workers, while a similar amount was deposited in 7,15,979 bank accounts the next year.
Assam, which roughly produces 55 per cent of India’s total tea production of 1,389.70 million kg, has 856 large tea gardens and over a lakh small tea growers engaging a few lakh workers in this industry.
The 126-member Assam Assembly will see three- phased elections — March 27 (47 seats), April 1 (39 seats) and April 6 (40 seats). The results will be declared on May 2.