Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have never imagined even remotely that his much frequent reference to his professed humble background of being a tea-seller during his early days would be used as a banter not by his political rivals or critics but by the people who are employed in the “chai” (tea) trade, that too in the state where his party is in power.
This is exactly what happened on Sunday when The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the largest tea body of Assam, slammed him for not being considerate towards the state’s tea garden workers’ plight and urged him to implement the promised minimum wage of Rs 350 before the new year starts.
ACMS General Secretary Rupesh Gowala, taking a potshot at PM Modi said, “While Modi often refers to himself as a “chaiwala”, he is yet make good on his promises towards a million tea garden labourers in the state in the last four years.
“Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Modi addressed several rallies in Assam and assured that the tea garden labourers would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day,” Gowala said.
“If this happens, the 10,00,000 tea garden labourers will lose Rs 30 each day for two months. Is it a “chaiwala” Prime Minister who is doing this to his own community?” asked Gowala.
At present, the tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are drawing Rs 167 per day while the tea garden workers in Barak Valley are getting Rs 145 per day.
“The existing wage agreement between the Assam government and the ACMS and other tea workers bodies expired on December 31, 2017.
“The government had announced an interim hike of Rs 30 per day. The tea garden labourers are supposed to get this interim hike from January 1, 2018, but the government is saying the hike will apply from March 1, 2018.
“This would make them lose Rs 30 per day for two months,” he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam is yet to fix that minimum wage, Gowala said, urging Modi to announce the promised Rs 350 per day minimum wage before 2019, adding that the condition of all those tea gardens run by the Assam government was far worse.
“While the labourers in a company-owned garden are receiving a wage of Rs 167 per day now, the 26,000 workers under the 14 gardens of state-owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL) are receiving a wage of Rs 115 only per day,” he said.
Assam has over 800 medium and large size tea gardens that produce over 50 per cent of the country’s total tea production.
The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said.