Agri Business

Bengal to share employee welfare costs of tea estate owners

Our Bureau Kolkata | Updated on January 24, 2018

bengal-tea



The West Bengal Assembly on Thrusday passed a Bill to share the employee welfare costs of plantation owners in line with the provisions of Plantation Labour Act (PLA). The Bill also aims to offer financial assistance for rejuvenation of sick or closed gardens.

The State government will allot ₹100 crore as the initial corpus of the fund to be managed by the West Bengal Tea Plantation Employees Welfare Board. The board will have representations from trade unions and will ensure compliance of welfare measures by the estates.

According to Manojit Das Gupta, Secretary-General of Indian Tea Association (ITA), the initiative is the first of its kind. “We are not aware of a similar initiative by any other tea growing State in the country,” he said.

To be referred as West Bengal Tea Plantation Employees Welfare Fund Act, 2015, the proposed legal provision will allow the State to offer interest subvention or matching grants as “soft loan” to the employers for meeting expenses in medical, housing, primary education and others.

The also has provisions to offer scholarships to children of tea labourers for skill development. The owners of sick and closed gardens may access soft-loan as ‘margin money’ to raise bank finance for rejuvenation of the estates.

ITA welcomes move

Explaining the reasons behind the move, the bill said that there are 283 registered gardens in the State with a total labour force of 2,62, 426. The total population in these gardens is more than 11.24 lakh.

According to PLA, the tea labourers should be provided with free housing, electricity, medical facilities primary education, crèche, potable water, sanitation. This apart, gardens should supply electricity, subsidised food grains, dry tea, fire wood, footwear, umbrella, etc.

“However… many tea gardens, particularly those not belonging to corporate groups or established tea families often violate the law, pleading fund shortage,” the bill said.

Various Inter-ministerial committees set by the Centre as well as West Bengal and Assam recommended sharing of statutory welfare costs by the government, it added.

Doubt on sick gardens

Das Gupta says the initiative should help improve compliance of labour welfare guidelines.

But tea industry sources are apprehensive if the piece of act will bring an end to the misery of labours in sick or closed gardens.

A garden turns sick due to poor management practices and poor work culture. Most of sick estates have huge defaults in paying statutory dues. This is one reason why serious deep pocket investors stay away from acquiring them.

Offering margin money to existing set of owners may not help the purpose, a senior planter in a prominent tea company told BusinessLine.

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Published on June 18, 2015
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