The debate over allowing tea plantations to function during the lockdown has become a political football in Assam.
A week since closure, the State government is now willing to let the plantation industry operate under strict monitoring. But, some fringe organisations opposed the move.
On Tuesday, the district authorities in the tea growing areas in Assam said that the plantations can operate under set guidelines - which includes strict monitoring on health issues in the garden area, inclusion of only staff members and strict adherence to social distancing norms.
The estates, which were already sending daily reports to the district authorities, were ready to sign on the dotted lines and resume operations. The lockdown was imposed at the start of the busy season of first-flush (March) plucking and, resumingoperations will help them avoid any impact on the crop-cycle.
Plucking operations are, by nature, in conformity with the social distancing rules. Planters were ready to ensure that close contacts are avoided at the factory.
However, the Assam Tea Tribes Student Union (ATTSA), a non-political organisation with sufficient following in the tea country, opposed the move citing public health concerns. The same organisation started demanding closure even before the official announcement for lock down.
By evening, another fringe organisation, mostly active in lower Assam, All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAAA) joined ATTSA in opposing the move on similar grounds.
The Opposition sent fillers to the plantation industry to enter negotiation with these fringe organisations. The plantation industry, however, avoided any such move as they are not recognised unions.
Meanwhile the recognised union in tea Congress dominated Assa Cha Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) is watching developments from a distance, as they were reportedly not involved by the State authorities in previous rounds of discussions.
The ultimate suffer is industry and its workers. “I was supposed to pay the fortnightly wages tomorrow. But I have to skip it as the revenues are drying up,” said a planter from Jorhat.