Successive District-Wise Lockdowns Hampering Tea Garden Wage Payments
On the afternoon of 26th June, the health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced a complete lockdown of the Kamrup Metropolitan District from the midnight of 28th June.
Along with that a ‘weekend lockdown’ was also announced for the rest of the districts of the state that was to be implemented from the very next day. While about 20 percent of the banks were allowed to be functional in Guwahati during the two-week lockdown, all banks are to remain closed during the weekend lockdown.
This sudden lockdown, although was cited as a necessary measure by the health department, has proved to be worrisome for many sections of society, especially in the tea industry and confusion has risen among the tea garden owners and management.
“We do support the lockdown. But the problem is that tea gardens in Assam not necessarily have their headquarters at the same place as the garden. My garden is in Tezpur but the headquarters is located in Guwahati. Similarly, many other tea gardens have their headquarters in Guwahati, Kolkata etc,” said a tea garden owner requesting anonymity.
Most tea gardens have hundreds of workers who are paid weekly wages. As such, a lockdown of 14 days has hampered the payments to these wage earners.
“Although a few banks were allowed to be operational in Guwahati, the branch where I have my accounts – the Chenikuthi Branch - was closed. And we are not allowed to travel to other parts of the city. The tea managements are also not getting payments from the auction centres and other traders. This lockdown has also locked down all our means of earning. So how do we pay the labourers?” he added.
After the Kamrup (M) district lockdown, the Jorhat district administration announced lockdown of Jorhat town from 9th to 15th July. This has added to the confusion among the garden managements.
Another manager of a tea garden in Jorhat said, “First with the lockdown of Guwahati in place, it was difficult for us to get payments. We somehow managed with minimum payments. Now when we are hoping for the lockdown to get over, Jorhat town will be locked down for a week. This is even more of a problem as even if the management here receives payment, we cannot make online payments to the workers.”
“We have not allowed the workers to go out of the estate due to the pandemic. Inside the estates they live in clustered housing facilities. We cannot take the risk of sending them outside to collect money and get infected. If such a thing happens, the whole workers’ community of the garden will be threatened. So we have to make payments in cash. The lockdown does not help us,” he added.
Lastly, officials of tea gardens have pointed out that even when cash is collected from the banks, they need it in all denominations to make payments to the hundreds of wage earners accordingly. “When it is our regular bank, they provide us with the cash as needed, broken into several denominations. But when we go to any other bank or even another branch the same is not provided which makes it difficult for us to manage,” said an official.
Voicing their support for the lockdown as a necessary measure, tea garden owners and managements have expressed the need of a better planning at least.