Guwahati: On the morning of Could 12, the employees of the Lalbagh division of Silchar’s Doloo tea property woke as much as the information of tons of of bulldozers approaching their division to clear the tea plantation from that space with the intention to purchase the land for a proposed greenfield airport.
Because the information unfold like wildfire, tons of of tea backyard staff rushed to the location, drenched in heavy rain, ignoring the restrictions beneath Part 144 imposed within the space a day earlier.
Nonetheless, a heavy deployment of safety personnel ensured none of them had been in a position to enter the location of eviction. Those that dared to strategy the eviction website had been reportedly heckled and pushed away by armed safety personnel.
With utter helplessness, a few of them even bowed all the way down to the toes of police personnel, pleading with them to not destroy their tea backyard; their solely supply of their livelihood. A few of them even protested with slogans saying they won’t enable the development of an airport, destroying the plantation.
Visuals from the day confirmed tea backyard staff begging earlier than the police personnel, saying, “If the tea backyard is being taken away, there will probably be nothing left with us, we solely know to work within the plantation. We don’t even have that a lot schooling to do different jobs.”
However their cries fell flat on the deaf ears of the administration and the eviction drive was carried out anyway. Reportedly, the administration had fielded 150 bulldozers and excavators to clear the location the place the Assam authorities intends to accumulate 2,600 bighas of land to construct a proposed greenfield airport.
Located round 330 kilometres from Assam’s capital metropolis, Guwahati, the Doloo tea property has a complete space of 9,965 bighas of land. As per stories, round 1,900 tea backyard staff – together with each common and non-regular workers– work within the tea backyard. The eviction drive is more likely to uproot round 3 million tea crops throughout 21 sections of the tea backyard.
The current website of the Doloo tea property was reportedly chosen by the Airports Authority of India, out of two different websites earmarked for the airport, in session with the state authorities. The opposite two websites had been reportedly the Kharail tea property in Doloo and Silcoorie tea property.
Nonetheless, the tea backyard staff of the Doloo tea property have been vehemently opposing the acquisition of plantation land for the airport which they worry would imply the lack of their livelihood. They’ve been demanding that the airport be in-built another place because the tea backyard is their solely supply of earnings.
“We can’t settle for the airport as it can take away our livelihood. The place will we work if the federal government destroys the tea plantation and constructs an airport? We don’t have the required ability set or schooling to work in an airport or every other place. The tea backyard is the one place the place we will work and earn one thing. That is why we’ve been protesting. However the tone-deaf authorities just isn’t able to pay attention,” Bishnu Sirdar, a tea backyard employee from the Lalbagh division, informed The Wire. Sirdar additionally knowledgeable that the eviction was nonetheless ongoing and there had been a heavy deployment of police within the space.
“There are not less than 12 or 13 vans of police and safety forces nonetheless deployed right here. Moreover, Part 144 has been carried out right here since Tuesday night. So, we aren’t allowed to assemble and even discuss in a gaggle. Public transportation to our space can be stopped. We’re virtually trapped,” Sirdar exclaimed with an indication of helplessness.
When The Wire spoke to Silchar’s Superintendent of Police, Ramandeep Kaur, she refused to make use of the time period “eviction” and stated it was an train of “clearing of tea bushes” handy over the land. She additionally claimed that staff themselves had been now serving to within the work of “clearing the tea bushes,” and that there was no regulation and order scenario.
When requested in regards to the heavy presence of police and safety forces within the space, she stated that this was to make sure they may perform their work with none disturbance. On incidents of Could 12, Kaur held that there was some misunderstanding, and the employees had now understood and haven’t any qualms with the airport.
Nonetheless, Kaur’s claims had been refuted by Kamaljit Teli, a employee from the Moinagarh division of Doloo Tea Property.
Whereas every day wage in our tea backyard space was round Rs 180 per day, now the administration is offering Rs 500 to Rs 600 to assist them within the eviction. So, there may be some people who find themselves serving to the administration. However that doesn’t imply the resistance towards the airport has ended,” Teli informed The Wire.
Teli stated staff weren’t with the ability to come out brazenly like earlier because the administration was utilizing all its would possibly to suppress the motion. “Over 300 police and safety personnel are right here together with Part 144. In such a scenario what can we do?” Teli added.
Notably, Kaur’s assertion corroborates what Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated on Sunday.
Addressing the media, Sarma rubbished the stories that there was any “eviction”. Sarma stated the choice to construct the airport was taken after session with commerce unions and tea backyard administration.
“Labour associations knowledgeable the federal government in writing that they haven’t any objection if the federal government desires to take over the tea backyard. In return, the tea backyard proprietor assured the unions that they won’t lay off any staff even when the federal government takes over the tea backyard. The proprietor additionally assured they might clear all pending Provident Fund and Gratuity to the labours earlier than handing over the land to the federal government,” Sarma added.
The controversial MoU
What Sarma maybe was speaking about was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between three commerce unions – Barak Shah Sramik Union, Akhil Bharatiya Chah Mazdoor Sangha and Barak Valley Cha Mazdoor Sangh – and the Doloo Tea Firm India Restricted.
Nonetheless, what Sarma didn’t acknowledge is the truth that this very MoU is the problem and tea backyard staff have rejected the MoU in two public hearings held earlier this month within the Moinagarh and Lalbagh divisions of the Doloo property.
“We had been stored at the hours of darkness in regards to the MoU. They agreed handy over our land for the airport with out even consulting us,” Sirdar stated. Arindam Deb, Cachar district’s assistant common secretary of the Asom Majuri Shramik Union – the organisation that has been spearheading the protest towards the airport – informed The Wire that the MoU was solely made public after repeated calls for by the tea backyard staff.
“It was solely on April 19, when the employees got here to know in regards to the acquisition when the federal government officers, together with safety personnel, got here for the demarcation of the earmarked land within the tea backyard. The employees resisted the officers peacefully following which the officers left with none battle. After that incident, we staged a number of protests contained in the tea backyard demanding the authority to make the MoU public. It was solely on April 25 that the MoU was made public,” Deb stated. Notably, the MoU was signed on March 7, 2022.
After the MoU was made public, AMSU pressed the administration to carry public hearings on the acquisition as per regulation. Accordingly, two public hearings had been held on April 29 and Could 2 on the Moinagarh division and Lalbagh division of the tea backyard, respectively.
“In each of those hearings, staff unequivocally rejected the MoU, saying it was signed with out consulting the actual stakeholders, the tea backyard staff,” Deb added.
The movies of those two public hearings, accessed by The Wire, verify Deb’s declare. The movies confirmed tea staff sloganeering towards the development of the airport whereas rejecting the MoU.
Why staff are opposing the MoU
The primary competition towards the MoU is a clause beneath which the corporate ensures that on receipt of the compensation from the state authorities it can clear all of the excellent Provident Fund (PF) contributions “deducted from the employees together with matching contribution from the employer”. In its ‘Obligation of the corporate’ part, it is usually stated that it’s going to clear all “pending previous gratuity claims of retired and deceased staff of the tea property”.
A provident fund is an funding fund that’s collectively established by the employer and worker to function a long run saving to assist an worker upon retirement. Each staff and the employer contribute to the PF. Whereas staff give a portion of their salaries to the provident fund, the employer additionally contributes on behalf of their workers. Notably, each these contributions to the employee’s PF had not been paid by the Doloo tea property’s administration for the final a number of years.
The tea backyard staff with whom The Wire spoke strongly opposed these two clauses, saying PF and gratuity are their rights which the tea backyard administration is sure to pay from the tea backyard’s income and never from the federal government’s compensation.
“The administration had minimize it from our weekly wage. Thus, it’s our personal cash. If the corporate says they’re in loss and thus, couldn’t pay their contribution to PF, we might have accepted. However how can we settle for that the administration pays our personal contribution to PF by promoting the tea backyard land to the federal government,” Teli stated.
Mrinal Kanti Shome, President of AMSU, termed the clause “unlawful,” saying the employee’s contribution to the PF account is “immediately minimize from their wages and can’t be transferred to different head of account” to fulfill different expenditures of the tea backyard administration.
Claiming that the Doloo Tea Property is a profit-making firm, AMSU questioned why the administration had not deposited the PF quantity on time and was now keen to pay it from the federal government’s compensation quantity. Default in cost of PF is a punishable offence beneath the provisions of Assam Tea Plantation Provident Fund Scheme Act, 1955, Shome added.
Nonetheless, Doloo Tea Property’s Deputy Basic Supervisor Supriya Sikdar blamed the problem of excellent PF and gratuity on the erstwhile administration of the tea backyard, the Patel Group.
“Our administration needed to bear an enormous excellent PF and different liabilities of Patel group to save lots of the backyard. Within the means of clearing this legal responsibility of Patel Group, the present legal responsibility was created,” Sikdar stated, including, “Regardless of the margins that we’ve earned to date, all this cash has been paid to clear the excellent of earlier administration and to run the backyard like paying wages and ration and so on.”
Sikdar additionally informed The Wire that the administration had already cleared all of the excellent PF quantity to staff, and the excellent gratuity cash to 170 staff. In accordance with Sikdar, the administration has obtained a compensation quantity of Rs 2.37 crore out of the whole Rs 50 crore from the state authorities. Of this quantity, Rs 1.57 crore was paid to clear all of the excellent PF quantity, whereas round Rs 80 lakh was paid to clear the gratuity, Sikdar added.
“We’ve got used this cash to clear the excellent gratuity quantity of 170 staff and cleared all of the excellent PF quantity. We can even clear the gratuity cost of deceased staff as soon as their subsequent of kin submits the succession certificates,” Sikdar stated. Citing different clauses within the MoU, Sikdar stated aside from clearing all these dues, the administration can be dedicated to spending cash from the compensation on numerous welfare initiatives for the employees.
There’s “no hurt” or “illegality” in offering pending PF dues from the compensation quantity, stated Supriyo Bhattacharya, Basic Secretary of the Centre of Indian Commerce Unions (CITU. Notably, Akhil Bharatiya Chah Mazdoor Sangha, an affiliated organisation of CITU, was one of many signatories of the MoU).
“You possibly can say administration ought to pay all these pending dues from the proprietor’s income. However it will solely delay the entire thing. In MoU, administration has ensured that they are going to clear the dues as quickly as they get the compensation. So, it can be sure that they are going to get it quick,” Bhattacharya informed The Wire.
Supporting the MoU, Bhattacharya stated it was signed to make sure the rights of the employees, in order that administration can’t return on its phrase. He additionally alleged that it was the leaders of AMSU who had been spreading misinformation in regards to the MoU and instigating staff.
“The employees don’t even perceive the MoU. Then how can they oppose it!” he added. Nonetheless, he took a place of center floor when requested whether or not CITU supported the development of the airport, saying, “CITU neither helps nor opposes the airport.”
Dolu’s airport finds no point out within the Union authorities’s 21 accepted greenfield airports
Notably, the proposed greenfield airport in Cachar’s Doloo tea property discovered no point out within the listing of 21 greenfield airports which have obtained “in-principle” approval from the Union authorities to date.
In a written reply to a query in Lok Sabha on March 17, 2022, the Ministry of Civil Aviation supplied an inventory of 21 websites which obtained “in-principle” approval from the Union authorities to arrange a Greenfield airport within the final three years.
“Then why did the federal government perform the eviction drive in Doloo?” requested Subrat Talukdar, a Guwahati-based social activist. “BJP had promised to guard the proper of tea backyard staff in the course of the campaigning of Assam meeting election in 2021. Then, why are they now attempting to evict tea plantation for a greenfield airport which isn’t even accepted by the Centre!” Talukdar requested.
Highlighting the privatisation of airports throughout the nation, he requested, “Is the federal government buying the land of Doloo tea property handy over to a non-public enterprise?”
In the meantime, the Opposition, too, has reacted sharply to the eviction drive on the Doloo tea property. Congress’ Chief of Opposition within the state Devabrat Saikia condemned the eviction drive and demanded the intervention of the chief minister to cease it instantly.
“Whereas BJP promised to present employment to lakhs of unemployed if it involves energy in Assam, it’s now doing the other by destroying the tea crops which have been the one supply of earnings for the tea backyard staff,” Saikia stated.
Congress’ Deputy Chief of Opposition, Kamalakhya Dey Purukayestha smelt a rat behind the federal government’s transfer and alleged that the eviction was carried out attributable to some private curiosity of native MP and MLAs of the ruling get together.
“Is there no different place than Doloo to construct the airport? There was a tea property named Kharail tea property, adjoining Doloo, which is sort of non-functioning. The administration of the tea property had proven curiosity in handing over their land to construct the airport. However Silchar’s DC, some MPs and MLAs of the ruling get together rejected this website saying it doesn’t have feasibility,” he stated whereas addressing the media. He additional alleged that there was an enormous “rip-off” ongoing to dump the evicted tea crops to a Kolkata-based firm at value.
Pratyush Deep Kotoky is an Assam-based freelance author.
Word: An earlier model of this story erroneously stated that the clearance of the tea backyard passed off on Could 11 as a substitute of Could 12.