Other States

BJP-led govt. gifts cash to Assam tea workers with eye on polls

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attends a public rally in Guwahati on Saturday, February 06, 2021.   | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR

Eye on the upcoming Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance government in Assam doled out cash to more than 7 lakh tea plantation workers on Saturday.

Tea plantation workers, referred to as “tea tribes” with roots in Central India, are a potent electoral force in 45 of Assam’s 126 Assembly constituencies. These seats are spread across the tea growing belts of eastern, central and southern Assam.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presided over the ‘Cha Bagichar Dhan Puraskar Mela’ (fair for gifting wealth to tea garden workers) in Guwahati. The event entailed transferring ₹3,000 each to the bank accounts of 7,46,667 tea workers.

This was the third such cash transfer after two instalments of ₹2,500 earlier. The Assam government has so far spent ₹584 crore under the scheme.

Addressing thousands of tea workers, Ms. Sitharaman said they were the beneficiaries of several schemes today because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been thinking about them before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

“The tea workers now enjoy digital facilities anyone in the metros does. You are directly getting money. There are no middlemen. This is the benefit of digitalisation,” she said, adding that the initiatives of the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in the State had led to the opening of bank accounts, mobile banking, and installation of ATMs in tea gardens.

“Assam tea has a global brand value. We all have tea in the morning, but your children eat stale rice. This situation has to change. The children of the workers, who provide tea to the world, must have access to fresh food,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the previous Congress government had deprived the tea workers of their rights. “We introduced several schemes in tea gardens. The children of tea workers are today marching ahead. Three of them cracked the Assam Civil Services Exam,” he said.

Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the government would soon hike the wages of plantation workers, who want the daily wage to be increased to ₹351. The current daily wage is ₹167.

“We are going to issue a notification in this regard within 10 days,” he said, assuring access to education and financial assistance to the children of each tea garden worker.

The BJP-led government has since 2016 showered schemes on tea plantation workers, including supply of free rice; financial aid of ₹12,000 for nutrition to every pregnant woman; and reservation of seats in medical and engineering institutes for their children.

So far, 47,000 pregnant women have received the cash award.

The government has also spent ₹1,400-crore on paving roads in the tea gardens and started building schools in 199 estates, the deadline for opening them being May 1. The government is also working on reserving 10% seats at all colleges in the State, and providing breakfast to the children of plantation workers in addition to midday meal.

“Tea tribes” and “ex-tea tribes” (those who have moved out of the estates to pursue agriculture and other professions) comprise almost 20% of Assam’s total population of 33 million. About 1.1 million of them, employed across 800 major tea estates and some small tea gardens, largely influence 3.6 million voters of the community.

In 2016, the BJP won over the plantation workers — once considered en masse Congress voters — to bag 26 of the 35 Assembly seats where they constitute the largest voting bloc. The Asom Gana Parishad, the BJP’s regional ally, won four of these seats.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 10:37:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bjp-led-govt-gifts-cash-to-assam-tea-workers-with-eye-on-polls/article33768884.ece

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