India

Lockdown | Work begins in some Assam tea gardens with full workforce

Assam, Guwahati: 17/04/2020: A tea garden workers pluck tea leafs in a tea garden in the out skirts of Guwahati on Friday, 17 April, 2020. Tea estates of Assam have been closed since March 22, 2020 while lockdown started on March 24, 2020. The tea estates in Assam restarted operations following social distancing norms and taking other precautionary measure. All the tea gardens operating with maximum 50% work force on roster basis. Tea workers are maintaining hygiene and social distance while plucking leaves or working in the factories. The opening of tea gardens in Assam will be seen as an important step to slowly revive the economy at a time where there are serious challenges in the economic scale where health concerns and livelihood in the state. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar / The Hindu

Assam, Guwahati: 17/04/2020: A tea garden workers pluck tea leafs in a tea garden in the out skirts of Guwahati on Friday, 17 April, 2020. Tea estates of Assam have been closed since March 22, 2020 while lockdown started on March 24, 2020. The tea estates in Assam restarted operations following social distancing norms and taking other precautionary measure. All the tea gardens operating with maximum 50% work force on roster basis. Tea workers are maintaining hygiene and social distance while plucking leaves or working in the factories. The opening of tea gardens in Assam will be seen as an important step to slowly revive the economy at a time where there are serious challenges in the economic scale where health concerns and livelihood in the state. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar / The Hindu

A few of Assam’s 803 tea estates have started working with a full workforce following a clearance from the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA).

A majority of the planters big and small are, however, wary of the interpretation of COVID-19 guidelines by the local authorities and complications that could arise from the arrival of people who have been stranded outside the State. A sizeable number of more than 7-8 lakh people who had been working in southern, western and northern India prior to the COVID-19 lockdown are from the tea growing belts.

ASDMA Chairperson Kumar Sanjay Krishna, who is also the Chief Secretary, had through a May 8 notification allowed all tea gardens and tea manufacturing units to operate with full capacity subject to maintenance of social distancing, hygiene and other guidelines of the Health Department.

 

“All our employees have started working,” said Bidyananda Barkakoty, advisor to the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA).

Social distancing

“About 65% of the total workforce is engaged in plucking activity and each plucker is allotted two rows of tea bushes. The spacing between tea bushes is generally 105 cm, so the distance between two pluckers is more than 2 metres, which automatically fulfils the criterion of social distancing,” said Mr. Barkakoty, who has tea gardens in eastern Assam’s Golaghat district.

Further east, most planters are apprehensive about issues cropping up if they allow all employees to work at a time.

“We are waiting for directions from the district authorities, as there were issues in the implementation of the relaxation on farming by the Centre last month. Moreover, many migrants are coming in from outside could have an impact on the 10 lakh people involved in the industry,” said Nazrana Ahmed, chairperson of Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA).

Representatives of NETA, ATPA and Bharatiya Cha Parishad on Monday had a meeting with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industries of the State.

‘Tea mission’

Mr. Sonowal assured the planters that the State government would implement the “tea mission” announced in the 2020-21 Budget. The measures under this mission include a subsidy of ₹7 per kg on orthodox tea, withdrawal of agricultural income tax for three years and 3% interest subvention on all term loans and working capital loans.

The Chief Minister also took note of the restoration of the supply chain of Assam tea under the present circumstances.


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Printable version | Aug 1, 2022 6:53:45 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lockdown-work-begins-in-some-assam-tea-gardens-with-full-workforce/article61658461.ece