The stimulus package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and later explained by Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has earned both bouquets and brickbats in north Bengal. While the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), North Bengal Zonal Council Chairman, Sanjit Saha, expressed ‘doubts’ on the actual implementation of the package, a communist leader in the tea Industry, Zia-ul-Alam partly appreciated it, but criticised it over many issues.

Darjeeling MP Raju Bista finally expressed happiness at the appreciation part of the reaction here. “I am happy to note that even the CPI-M has welcomed the package that talks about contribution of the entire 24 percent Provident Fund of employer and employee share by the government of India,” Mr Bista said.

On the other hand, the CPIM-backed senior trade union leader, Mr Alam, said they welcome the 24 percent PF move for establishments having less than 100 workers with 90 percent of them getting less than Rs 15000 per month.

“It will be effective in most of the small, medium and new plantations as well all Bought Leaf Factories (BLF). So such establishment should regularize their due payment of wages and other dues during the lockdown and update the rates of wages,” he said.

According to the CII Chairman, Sanjit Saha, almost everyone has expressed doubts on the implementation part. “But the easy loan system from banks for MSME will benefit a section of industrialists and make up for the financial crisis at present,” he said.

“But my question is when there is no market, even there is no order, how can an entrepreneur succeed? I doubt it will increase the NPA (Nonperforming assets). Secondly, 80 percent entrepreneurs are unorganized in this sector. I think 20 percent industrialists, belonging to the MSME sector, may enjoy benefits from the announcement because bankers only sanction loan to a selected section,” Mr Saha added.

However, Mr Alam pointed out that the economic package to the tune of Rs 20 lakh crore was meant to take on the Covid-19 situation, and demanded no reduction in wages and salaries in the tea industry during non-employment days of the lockdown, while he said clauses (iii) and (iv) of the orders of the Home Secretary, government of India and Chief Secretary, government of West Bengal of 29 March 2020, issued in exercise of Section 10(2)(I) of the National Disaster Management Act, should not be violated.

Demanding immediate payment of dues of wages and salaries for all categories, Mr Alam pointed out eight issues and said: “We firmly oppose the announcement of Reduction of Rate of Contribution of EPF from 12% to 10% for establishments having more than 100 workers in roll. “It will adversely affect the interest of nearly 15 lakh of tea and plantation workers in India and in West Bengal of nearly 3.5 lakhs of tea workmen.”

“Government of India should immediately halt such discriminatory policy towards workers of organised tea sectors,” he added.

However, Darjeeling MP Mr Bista said: “Their opposition to reducing the rate of EPF contributions from 12 percent to 10 percent for establishments having more than 100 workers on roll is unfounded. This is a temporary but emergency measure used by the government to provide more liquidity in the hands of the workers. Doing so will ease the immediate financial burden they are facing due to the lockdown, and after three months EPF contributions will be reverted to normal rates.

“As for their other objections to the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ package, it is to be noted that only Rs 3.70 lakh crore worth economic package aimed at revitalization the MSME (Micro Small and Medium Enterprise), small businesses, and other grassroots sectors was announced. The government will announce details worth Rs 16.3 lakh crore in the days to come, which will cover all their concerns, including the relief and rehabilitation for migrant workers,” Mr Bista added.

Ms Sitharaman today announced a scheme for 8 crore migrant workers, including additional supply of food stuff free of cost for the next two months and ration under One Nation One Ration Card programme. Mr Bista expressed happiness over the second phase of relief packages in support of the major sections of migrant workers, farmers, people living along the margins in urban and rural regions, salaried and middleclass.

“Most significant of all, our government will complete the “One Nation One Ration Card” Scheme by March 2021. This will ensure that no matter where migrant workers go in the country, they can collect their allocated ration using the ration card issued at your home ration depot,” Mr Bista said, adding “Wide ranging universalization of Minimum Wages and extension of Employees’ State Insurance (ESIC) coverage will protect the rights of the workers.”